Whatcha Say, Eh?

Since we’re on a bit of a Canadian kick this week – it is after all the 150th birthday of our country – I thought I’d delve into the linguistics of our home and native land.  No I don’t mean the French-English thing I mean an idiom that every comedian – particularly non-Canadians – seems to think is hysterically funny.  Those two little letters that has come to define a Canadian accent for the world though I myself have seldom heard it used and never use it myself.

Again we have to thank the CBC for enlightenment (even though I am pedantic enough to note that though Oliver Goldsmith was Anglo-Irish She Stoops to Conquer hardly qualifies as an “Irish” play) and entertainment, and my friend Cathy for bringing this little video to my attention.  She a fine lady, eh?

On this day in 1534:  Jacques Cartier is the first European to reach Prince Edward Island.


Bloom’s Friday

boomsThe past few Fridays I’ve been walking amidst the blooms of Grandville and Delorde’s animated flowers.   However June 16 is Bloomsday, a day for a different type of walk for many people as they follow Leo Bloom’s day-long journey through Dublin.  I suggested to our friends Nora and Cathleen, who are currently there, that they go to Davy Byrnes Pub today completely forgetting that it will be packed with the faithful enjoying their Gorgonzola sandwich with a glass of burgundy.    I am still making my own pilgrimage through Ulysses itself – a journey that started last fall and seems to be taking more than a day – but I thought I’d have a mini-Bloomsday celebration.

Perhaps the most famous passage in the entire 265,000 word pilgrimage through the streets of Dublin and the minds of Leo Bloom and company is Molly Bloom’s rambling stream of consciousness that ends the journey.  I was hoping to find a reading of it by the great Siobhan  McKenna but came up empty-handed.

Here is Angeline Ball in Bloom, a 2004 adaptation of the novel, in the last portion of the monologue recalling how Leo Bloom proposed to her.

And should you wish to listen to the full passage Barbara Jefford performed it in the first movie version of Ulysses made in 1967.

On this day in 1911: IBM founded as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company in Endicott, New York.


My Night With Josephine

An early caricature by Al Hirschfeld of Josephine – possibly from her unsuccessful appearance in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.

Yesterday two things brought back the memory of  my night with the great Music Hall star Josephine Baker.  First, June 3rd was her birthday: she was born 110 years ago in St Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a laundress and a vaudeville drummer.  Second, I received a call from my old friend Shelia who reminded of that evening in April of 1972 when we went to the Royal York Hotel to see La Baker on stage.

It was during her career renaissance in the last years of her life that Josephine appeared at the Imperial Room – the premiere showroom in Toronto at the time.  Sheila was an acquaintance of Louis Jannetta, the renowned maitre d’ of the Room and knowing I was an adoring fan she had arranged a ring-side table.  After the first show, Shelia – who was never the shy one and had a flamboyant charm that disarmed men and women alike – cornered Mr Jannetta and said:  We’d kill to met that woman! He laughed and assured her that murder, the ensuing mess of a trial, and possible incarceration wouldn’t be necessary; he would be more than happy to take us backstage after the second show.  Her second show was a spectacular as the first – being Josephine it meant a costume change to something even more elaborate than her first ensemble.

Afterwards Mr Jannetta escorted us backstage and introduced me as her #1 fan in the city of Toronto.   She greeted us with hugs and so much charm – I dare say not too many people had come back during the run.  Sheila, being Sheila,  grandly, and to my surprise I should add, asked if she’d like to join us in a glass of champagne and an omelette at Gason’s a great restaurant she knew of in the old Markham Village.  Josephine laughing thanked us and said that after a show she enjoyed a cup of tea more than a glass of bubbly and that late nights were out of the question these days.  She then turned to me and I remember it to this day said: Could you help an old lady on with her slippers, good sir? And there I was helping one of the legends of French Music Hall slip into comfortable shoes. I had loved her before then but loved her even more afterwards.  She thanked me, gave me a kiss on either cheek and promised to send me an autographed photo.

This Hirschfeld lithograph has always found a place in our homes.  It was done in 1964 when she made her first New York appearance in 28 years.

Three years later I was doing a good deal of commuting between Toronto and Paris and had tickets to see her in a revue at the Bobino in the second week of its run.  Celebrating her 50 years on the French stage it was “un grand retour” to Paris, the city of her first success.  It became the hottest ticket in Europe and the media was filled with stories of her life and previous successes, and failures.  The show opened on April 8, 1975 to rave reviews and was sold out for months.  Four days later she was found in a coma lying peacefully in her bed surrounded by newspapers with glowing accounts of her performance.  She died later that day.

Happy Birthday dearest Josephine. Thank you for making a young star struck man very happy and for giving an old man such a wonderful memory.


On this day in 1855: Major Henry C. Wayne departs New York aboard the USS Supply to procure camels to establish the U.S. Camel Corps.

“Style is Eternal.”

Yves St. Laurent or Coco Chanel

All the latest Paris fashions from 1928 – now that’s “style”!

The original pensé that I took my title from is “Fashion fades, style is eternal!”  It’s attributed to either Coco Chanel or Yves St Laurent – take your pick; of course they were basing that axiom on their world of couture.  A recent announcement from the Chicago Manual of Style  would indicate that the same adage doesn’t hold true where writing and language are concerned.  At the American Copy Editors Society meeting last month it was announced that the good people in Chicago have decided to remove the hyphen from e-mail email and to no longer capitalize Internet internet in their upcoming edition.  These changes were greeted with cheers,  whistles, and stomps of approval.  There is nothing rowdier than a room of copy editors.  All part of the evolution of written English – a language that wasn’t really codified until the 16th century.

A left click on the William Bullokars’ “Pamphlet for Spelling” will take you to an article on the early codification of English grammar

The CMS is the style guide used by many American publishers, institutes, journals and publications; as I recall it was the standard we used when I worked at the Warsaw Business Journal back in waning years of the last century.  However it is only one of the many manuals that set the standard for writing depending on subject, country, institute, and government.  When I joined the Canadian Federal Government in 2001 I was confronted with a style guide that dictated Times New Roman 12 as font, English punctuation, and American spelling.  It covered things such as the decimal point, abbreviations, capital letters, hyphenation, spelling, frequently misused or confused words, and Canadian geographical names.  And it addressed them in two languages. No one ever bothered to tell me about it until my first quick reference job aid was rejected because it was “sans serif” and 16 font.  Live and learn is the motto of Canadian Government in so many things.

When I began to work on this blog back in 2006 I guess I set up my own style guide and then too often neglected to refer to it over the next eleven years.

The Willy or Won’t He Style Guide

Amongst the “rules” I follow (with varying success) are:

  • (Proper) English spelling (90% of the time)
  • Titles of plays, operas, music, books, publications are italicized (most of the time)
  • Direct quotes are italicized (most of the time) except when it follows a title then it’s pretty much free-fall
  • Oxford comma in lists (that one comes and goes)
  • Attributions and if possible links when things came directly from another source (I tend to observe that one scrupulously)

Amongst the “irritating” things I do which there should be rules about in my style guide:

  • an over fondness for the em dash – I’ve counted three – ops make that four, ah five in this post alone.
  • a penchant for run on sentences with some really sloppy punctuation – Miss Firth, god rest her soul, was forever marking my essays with big red “ME” for that one.  Oh damn make that six!  And that “really sloppy” would probably get the red pencil too; things are either sloppy or they are not, I can hear her intone.
  • a very ridiculous overuse of the modifier “very” (see below)
  • Oh let’s admit it – a general overuse of modifiers – see dot point two above. Oh crap make that eight!

But other than those points, as internet language goes, I don’t think I do too badly.

The Use of the Word “Very” as a Modifier

This is what started my writing this entire post, it has expanded since the original concept two months ago.

I think if I were to do one of those “word check” applications on the 2226 posts I’ve put up since 2006 it would confirm the belief I have for a very long time that the word “very” appears very often frequently.  It must or my faithful reader would not have, without any explanation, sent me this helpful little chart.  Though I should suggest to faithful reader that he/she they* has left me in the dark about words beginning A through M and T through Z.


Style Is…..

So as I navel-gaze (does it really have a hyphen?) about style, blogging, and the greater things in life I pass on these thoughts from several  very authoritative sources.

Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.
Gore Vidal

Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.
Jean Cocteau

Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of style.
Jonathan Swift

Every style is excellent, if it be proper; and that style is most proper which can best convey the intentions of the author to his reader.
Isaac D’Israeli

I rather like that last one.  Yes D’Israeli has the final word!

On this day in 1845: The Fatel Razack coming from India, lands in the Gulf of Paria in Trinidad and Tobago carrying the first Indians to the country.