A Guitar has Moonlight in it

April 9, 2012

Many eloquent guitarists enjoy discussing their instruments as much as they like playing them. I celebrate both the guitar and the art of quotation, and this list combines the two passions. From witty quips to profound insights, here is my collection of quotes on the guitar:

As you read through these, feel free to listen to my classical guitar version of Chopin’s Waltz in Bm.

“Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, save perhaps two.”
~Fredric Chopin

“I played guitar for ten years before I realized it wasn’t a weapon.” ~Pete Townshend

“The guitar’s most special quality is its ability to shape the dying away of a sound into silence.” ~John Williams

Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded.” ~Jimi Hendrix

“The guitar, by its very nature, the nature of its sound, by the soft nuance of its powerful and ancient voice, by the magic of the tone, goes directly to the part of oneself where love is felt.” ~Pepe Romero

“The guitar is your first wings. It’s assigned and designed to unfold your vision and imagination.” ~Carlos Santana

“I don’t have any limits, or feel any limits in the guitar. I consider it a small orchestra, and almost perfect. … The guitar has all the colors, and the polyphony, and many, many things — except powerful sound.” ~Leo Brower

“The guitar is a miniature orchestra in itself.” ~Ludwig Vaughn Beethoven

“I love guitar; it plays my heart-strings.” ~Carolyn Burns

“The guitar is a wonderful instrument which is understood by few.” ~Franz Schubert

“The [guitar is the] instrument most complete and richest in its harmonic and polyphonic possibilities.” ~Manuel de Falla

“I love the guitar for its harmony; it is my constant companion in all my travels.” ~Nicolo Paganini

“Yes, we three were so happy, my wife, my guitar, and me!”
~Big Bill Broonzy

“A guitar has moonlight in it.” ~James M. Cain

“Electric guitars are an abomination, whoever heard of an electric violin? An electric cello? Or for that matter an electric singer?”
~Andres Segovia (before the days of the Piano Guys or Auto-Tune)

“The turning point in the history of western civilization was reached with the invention of the electric guitar.” ~Lene Sinclair

“Take but degree away, untune that string, and hark, what discord follows!” ~William Shakespeare

“The harmonious efforts which our guitarists produce unconsciously represent one of the marvels of natural art.” ~Manuel de Falla

“If a lute player lives to be 100, he spends 99 years tuning and one year playing.” ~Unknown

“The guitar… is like a lady, but one to whom the saying “look at me but do not touch me” does not apply.” ~Gaspar Sanz

“One must make of one’s fingers well drilled soldiers.” ~Fernando Sor

“To play the guitar well is easy, to play the guitar poorly is difficult.” ~Pepe Romero

”I can’t play guitar, but I can sure make it howl.” ~ John Lennon

“Playing guitar is like telling the truth.” ~B.B. King

“My Guitar is not a thing. It is an extension of myself. It is who I am.” ~Joan Jett

“You should only play pieces that you’re willing to marry.” ~Pepe Romero

“I don’t know, with a piano, in a sense you’re stuck with the sound of the piano so you can only do things which use that sound. Anyway, I never cease to be amazed by what you can say with the guitar.” ~John Williams

“The pleasure of playing a fine guitar will long outlive the pain of the initial price.” ~Ray Fair

“When it is possible that people don’t understand my English, I take my guitar and speak with my music!” ~Celedonio Romero

Also, I occasionally post things for my guitar students here, if you have a hankering to take a gander.

In Praise of the Slow Read

January 9, 2012

The Art of Slow Reading

A friend recently lent me a book, and three pages in, I realized that the author tackled paramount topics with brilliant analysis and language. So I closed it, and returned it to my friend the following day.

I didn’t abandon the book because I didn’t want to read it, but because I wanted to slow read it.

I wanted to pore over the book for months, scribbling thoughts into its margins, dog-earring its pages, plastering the book with post-its where the scribbles spill its margins’ banks, and letting my tears crinkle the paper under its most insightful paragraphs.

Here are a few pages from my copy of Steinbeck’s masterful East of Eden, which I recently slow-read:

East of Eden 1East of Eden 2

I was confident that my friend didn’t want to have his book returned to him in the summer of 2014, looking like the paperback equivalent of Lindsey Lohan. So I gave it back to him, and bought my own copy to do with whatsoever I see fit.

I bring it up because recent studies show that the desire and ability to slow read are going the way of the dodo. Why so rare?

In The Shallows, tech guru Nicholas Carr blames our online habits for damaging our ability to process and comprehend what we read. Nonstop news feeds leave us hyperlinking from article to article; our reading sessions are frequently interrupted by the chime of a text or an email; and we scan splashes of words on Facebook and Twitter more often than we read longer texts. While books focus us and encourage creative/profound thinking, the Internet promotes a distracted sampling of knowledge morsels from an array of buffets. It lavishes us with bounties of factoids, but cripples our capacity to reflect and synthesize these facts into a coherent bigger picture.

The world is in the throes of an information revolution, and slow-reading’s neck is under the guillotine.

To understand the sea change underway in our methods of gathering and synthesizing information, compare the approach of a 10th grade student a decade or two ago to that of a 10th grader today in the following scenario: His humanities teacher assigns him a 3-minute oral presentation, due the following day, about Sherpas, which he has never heard of before.

In 1995, a student would…

… Go to a library, check out two books from the eight available about Sherpas, and read the books, thereby forming a knowledge base of all things Sherpan. The following day, he would tell his class about the expert mountaineers of Nepal’s high-altitude regions, and a little about their language, culture and accomplishments.

In 2011, he would…

(feel free to fast read this section)

… Slip in his iPod earbuds, and put Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” (feat. Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes) on repeat. He would open his laptop, set his Facebook and Gchat statuses to “hOmEwOrK $Ucks,” and conduct a Google search for “sherpa.” As he would turn on the TV beside his computer, he’d feel his phone vibrate in his pocket, and retrieve it to see that “Hot Catherine” (a name she would have entered into his phone herself) had texted “heyyy what u doin???” He would set his phone down, return his focus to his laptop monitor, and click on the first of Google’s 24,900,000 hits for sherpa-related information: Wikipedia.

He’d take up his phone and type a response to Catherine: “stupid homework for Mrs Kilpatrick. u?” He would see that his Twitter tab announced 412 unread tweets, and spend the next 30 minutes alternately scrolling through them and texting Catherine, mostly about her new highlights, and the last Glee episode.

She would end the conversation with a “luv ya! <3,” and, despite her casual spelling, he would perceive the statement as an auspicious milestone in their quickly warming friendship. He would return to the Wikipedia article, and skim four lines before hearing the Gchat chime, which would prompt him switch to the tab supporting that page where he would see that SpiderMonkeyNinja98 had said: “wHat uP cHochY???”

For the next 52 minutes, our student would swap Youtube links and advice about World of Warcraft with SpiderMonkeyNinja98, and then set his Gchat status to “invisible” to reduce the likelihood of further interruptions. He would then remove his earbuds and listen to the Giants/Brewers game on his TV as he scanned the status messages of everyone in his chat list. He would notice that, 30 minutes earlier, Catherine had set her status to “texting the sweetest guy <3 <3 <3” and his heart would leap inside his ribcage deliciously.

He would then notice that 118 new tweets had accumulated, but resist the temptation to browse through them, instead returning to the Sherpa article. He would resume skimming it until he saw a link to “Mt. Everest,” which he would realize he’d wanted to know more about since the previous summer when his cousin Gary had told him it was “B.A.”.

He would click on the Everest link, and scan two paragraphs before seeing a hyperlink to another article called “death zone,” which he would promptly click on in hopes of slaking his burgeoning thirst for disturbing images.

By the time he opened the “Death Zone” article, he would be skimming so rapidly that he would mistake the word “Hemoglobin” for the name of a Spider-man villain, and click on the link to that article because he wouldn’t yet have outgrown his passion for the Marvel Comics universe.

His evening would continue in this vein until 2:30 AM when he would stumble into bed. The speech he would deliver to his class the next morning would be so incoherent and utterly devoid of any Sherpan information, that it would ….well, it would sound like the speeches of many of his classmates who had taken similar research approaches.

This isn’t intended to be an anti-tech diatribe, but the example illustrates how our study skills are disintegrating. Our attention spans and deep thinking abilities are sacrificed on the altar of connectivity.

But technology isn’t the lone culprit.

Life is Too Short To Read Good Books

You could toss your cell, iPod and laptop into a river, and barricade yourself inside a candle-lit library, and still be besieged by concentration problems.

King Solomon said “Of making many books, there is no end, and much study is a weariness to the flesh.” And he said that before the internet, before Gutenberg’s printing press, and even before the Bible was translated into Klingon.

Worshipping as it's meant to be


In The Art of Thinking, Ernest Dimnet offers some sage advice about how to avoid being wearied by the ceaseless onslaught of available reading material:

“Don’t read good books—life is too short for that—ONLY READ THE BEST. … If you want to be vitalized into the power of thinking real thoughts resolutely leave out whatever is not of the best….Those twenty or thirty volumes will be your library, that is to say, your fountain of thought, your delight … NEVER READ, ALWAYS STUDY.”

Dimnet understood that we are finite creatures with embarrassingly limited learning capacities. Reading through a meaty book only once, especially quickly, does little for our long-term education.

(It is worth noting, however, that if you approach your blender’s instruction manual with the same metaphysical curiosity and philosophical reverence that you afford to Feodor Dostoyevsky, then you’re missing the point. We must differentiate between things we read for our formation, and those we read for our information.)

The Broader Picture

There’s a new fear on the scene called FOMO, or the “fear of missing out,” specifically as pertains to our worry that life will pass us by if we don’t digest thousands of nuggets from the interwebs each day. The 10th grade student from 2011 in the example above suffered from FOMO, but there are some who haven’t allowed it to hinder them, like this guy:


I believe he was one of Napoleon's generals

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

The late Steve Jobs was obsessed with perfection, and harnessed it to transform Apple into the most valuable corporation on the globe. A key component of his perfectionism was focus. Shortly after Apple hired him on, Jobs said the company didn’t need more products, but that it needed fewer. He didn’t fear that Apple would miss out on some market opportunity, so he pared down the company’s R&D goals, and labored to perfect those few aims.

We are mortal, finite beings. We have humbling constraints on our time, and we can’t accomplish everything.

So, slow-reading means specializing. It means choosing the best books (for you) and devoting yourself tediously to them. It means stopping to look up any word or reference you don’t understand. It means consulting helps and commentaries, and keeping a detailed notebook of your questions, thoughts, and reactions to what you’re reading. Dimnet said, “To keep no track of what one learns or thinks is as foolish as to till and seed one’s land with great pains, and when the harvest is ripe turn one’s back upon it and think of it no more.”

Slow reading also means repetition. Stories like this one prove that we are capable of absorbing and storing a staggering amount of data, but our brains were designed so that we normally can not access the information we encounter unless we have repeatedly and fastidiously studied it. Slow-reading means becoming intimately familiar with the material so that you have ready access to it.

Slow-reading means quality over quantity, and striving to become perfect.

Slow-reading also means turning your back on the lion’s share of information available to mankind, and committing to a few painfully slender areas to strive to become expert in. For me those areas are finger-style guitar, French and English languages, writing, the rise of Asian powers, endurance athletics, song-writing, proverbs of all kinds, nature, geography, and way too many others, which is why I’m an expert in none.

If you read King Solomon’s most famous admonition in Ecclesiastes 9:11—and read it slowly—the way Steve Jobs, Ernest Dimnet, or King Solomon himself would have, you will discover some text written between the lines:

“Let your hand find only as many things to do as you have time to do with all your might.”



“I long for eternity because there I shall meet my unwritten poems and my unpainted pictures.” ~Kahlil Gibran.


How to be a Manly Office Monkey

November 27, 2011

The sedentary nature of office work is sometimes enough to make a virile, white-collar man regret taking the path that led him to become an Assistant Deputy Coordinator of Client Data and Management Information, and to wish he’d instead been a cowboy, or maybe a lumberjack.

But the world is rapidly shrinking, the U.S.’s post-industrial economy is becoming service-oriented, and the average cowboy is barely pulling in $20k a year.

This brave new world has muscled legions of lumberjacks out of the forests and into cubicles, forced them to swap their chainsaws for three-hole punches, and made them watch their barrel-chests atrophy into doughy abdomens scarcely capable of supporting their enfeebled limbs. Observe:

But during my years as an office monkey, I’ve developed a few techniques to slow the inevitable decline into obesity-induced paralysis, and I thought your inner cowboy might like to hear about them.

(1) Winston Churchill

One day, about two years after I’d transitioned from blue to white-collar work, I looked at my hands and noticed that the callouses I’d earned from earlier years of carpentry and steel fabrication had vanished, and given way to soft, womanly palms, better suited for applying facial ointments to sunburned infants than for slinging hammers.

So, I found this 35-lb. slab of asphalt on a roadside, and hauled it into my office:

Winston Churchill (The duct tape is a precautionary measure against a fissure that he has developed)

W.C. is also a quite a good listener.

I originally named him Writing Companion, because I would rotate the rough chunk of road around in my hands as I read/researched for writing projects. Soon, his name was truncated to W.C., and later re-expanded in a mutated form to Winston Churchill (one of my heroes).

I try to rotate Churchill around for at least a few minutes each day, and the activity prevents most people from mistaking me for an Oil of Olay salesman during handshakes. A session with Churchill can also be enough of an upper-body workout to get my heart-rate up… And, speaking of up, point 2 is…

(2) Ascend the Walls

Fitness pundits advise office workers to forgo the rock-star parking spot, to instead park at the far end of the lot —forcing us to take at least two short walks during the day.

I take that advice one step further, and forgo the luxury of stairs to instead climb walls as often as possible:

This kind of activity is pretty anaerobic, but its good for pecks, forearms, and tiny muscles in your fingers that you probably didn’t even know you had. This fitness technique will also lead many of your co-workers to believe you are of Sherpan ancestry, which comes with a whole host of unexpected advantages.

(no further explanation required)

Not all buildings, and not all security crews allow for a man to make such entrances, but the broader point is to take the difficult way on purpose whenever you can.

(3) Micro-Aerobics

Ever since studying percussion for a while in my early teenage years, I’ve been annoying classmates and co-workers by (mostly) subconsciously tapping out rudiments and rhythms with all four limbs.

This is what notation looks like for a standard rock beat.

I hadn’t given much thought to this habit until I read an article published earlier this year in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Here’s an excerpt:

“Fidgeting at your desk [is] contributing more to your cardiorespiratory fitness than you might think. Researchers have found that both the duration and intensity of incidental physical activities (IPA) are associated with cardiorespiratory fitness.”

So, movement promotes cardio health, even when this movement is generated from incidental activity on a micro-muscular level. Cultivating a healthier  heart at work means that, when you’re not at work, you can do manly things —backing up trailers, brewing beer, surviving bear attacks, mixing concrete, refusing to wear socks with sandals, and collecting maps— with greater efficiency.

I don't know where this was taken, but I fully support the sentiment (Socks with sandals)

Oliver Wendall Holmes said “Stillness and steadiness of features are signal marks of good breeding.” I don’t dispute the integrity of Holmes’s logic, but inactivity doesn’t burn calories. Fidgeting may make you look like an inbred yokel, but you’ll be a cardiovascularly-robust inbred yokel!

Do you have any other fitness tips for the white-collar worker?


Videography by Alisha Miiller.

Murmuration of Starlings

November 10, 2011

A group of starlings is called a murmuration. This video captures a rare, chance encounter and shared moment with one of nature’s most beautiful and most fleeting phenomena.

The clip is not mine, but it was too powerful for me not to share:

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive via Vimeo.

I have many original posts in the works, but I’ve been too busy with work, the wedding, etc. to devote the requisite time to them. Check back often!

The Yarest Vessel this Side of the Mississippi

October 11, 2011

In response to requests to see pictures of my new (used) sailboat, I thought I would post a few here:



I still can't figure out why a SAILboat came with a key...


I thought I spied a lily-livered scurvy dog….But, turns out it was a lavender-kidneyed scoliosis cat.

As I was cleaning it up, I sipped moderately on some spiced rum called "Sailor Jerry". Since some people call me "Jerry" for short, the coincidence seems noteworthy.

Also, I need a name for it. Any suggestions?


Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
–Mark Twain


Photos 1 and 2 by Danielle Lamberth. Photos 3 and 4 by Steve Hercus.

Even to Even

September 25, 2011

Psalm 55:17 and several other passages show that God created time so that a new day begins at sunset. I recently noticed a powerful analogy about the life-cycle of men and women that is laced into that evening-to-day pattern that I’d love to get your thoughts about.

If you drew a picture of the day linearly, from beginning to end –from sunset to sunset– its light might look something like this:

(a.)  (b.)                                                                         (c.)

Monica made this for me. As an artist, she's well acquainted with Roy G. Biv.

Let’s go through the three sections briefly.

Section a.

The official beginning of the day is the very moment that the last sliver of the sun slips below the horizon.

Like a wedding reception that the radiant bride recently left, the glow remains, but is fading fast.

I remember from the hunter’s safety class I took as a boy that, in North Carolina, it is legal to shoot at a deer up to 30 minutes after sunset. That’s because enough light remains to allow the hunter to see the target clearly, to make sure it’s not one of his hunting buddies wearing a double-beer hat, and to allow him take a confident shot.

It ain't quite huntin' without my beer hat.

But it is against the law to shoot at an animal 31 or more minutes after sunset, because there is not enough light left to take a confident shot. Which brings us to…

Section b.

Within an hour of sunset, all the light has vanished. It is dark, and we sleep (or stay up watching old episodes of Gilligan’s Island on Hulu maybe).

Section c.

The sun rises, we wake up, and let our diurnal eyeballs lead us through our various daytime activities. This is the real substance of the day when we have the light to accomplish our work, play, and other objectives.

The Analogy

The first section is our physio-chemical existence, the life we are now living. It is the 3 score and 10 years each of us is given.

The biblical writer James called this physical life a vanishing vapor. The Apostle Peter called it withering grass. Ezra called it a shadow. King David called it a flower of the field that is gone after the wind passes over it. CAKE said as soon as you’re born, you start dying.

We live out our short lives, and then die.

Death is represented by section b. The sun is down, and we “sleep”.

But then comes section C.

At the end of this age of man, everyone who has ever lived and died will be resurrected. The overwhelming majority will then begin real life that lasts forever.

The analogy breaks down at the very end of the spectrum — because, well, because the day ends. But the sun will never set on us again once our real lives begin, and the light will never fade. The life we are now live is just a blip on the radar. It is the 30 minutes when you can still shoot at a deer. It’s the prologue — just before chapter one of our never-ending book begins.


“As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.”
― Leonardo da Vinci


A Time to Cast Away Stones thanks Monica Antonio for creating the sunlight graphic above.

The Holes in Your Tongue

August 31, 2011

After four years of neglect, I’ve started cultivating my French again in hopes of nursing the wilted flower back to some semblance of health.

You'll have to endure my pirmitive sketches for the duration of this post.

Bonjour! Je am....wait, I mean, I suis...nevermind.

As I rifle through my old books and dictionaries, I’ve been reminded of several French terms that have no English equivalent, and these foreign terms represent holes in our language (or tongue).

(What did you think the title of the post meant? That it would be about body piercings? No, sir! (p.s. Piercings will be the subject of next week’s entry))

I believe a person can eventually explain pretty much any notion in most any tongue he speaks, but one language may require a whole clumsy assortment of brushes and paints to create a certain image which another language can vivify perfectly with a single brushstroke. This concept fascinates me, so I’ve been investigating words in many languages that have no direct English equivalent.

Here are a few French ones:

Sortable : (adj. French) A word describing a person you can take places without being embarrassed.

e.g. Did you seriously invite Caleb to come along tonight? That guy is not sortable.

Dépaysement : (n. French) The sensation that comes from not being in one’s native country, the feeling of being a foreigner or immigrant. I think Moses was experiencing a heavy dose of  dépaysement when he described himself as “a stranger in a strange land.”

e.g. In another life, I would have been an explorer-poet, fueled by wanderlust and dépaysement.

Bouffer : (v. French) To eat, but normally used for animals or in a very informal (and rude) way for people. If the English word “gobble” were more crass it would be kind of similar to bouffer.

One of my French professors taught me this word just before I moved to France back in 2004, saying it was “the kind of word real French people used”.  Well, during one of my first formal dinners with my host family, someone asked me how the meal was, and I said c’était si bien que j’ai trop bouffé (it was so good that I gobbled up too much). They all looked at me appalled. Later I asked one of the children why my comment was so poorly received, and he said c’est vraiment, vraiment impolit! (It’s really, really impolite). Thanks a lot, professor Sandarg.

"Zee American students believed me when I said "bouffer" is a normal word for French people!... Tomorrow, I'll teach zem zat it's zee custom for French people to greet each other wiz a vigorous belly pat! Hawh-hawh-hawh-hawh!"

(Actually Professor Sandarg was very good, and I would highly recommend him to anyone wanting to learn the intricacies of conversational French)


I asked my brother, Don Jacques, who lived in Japan for 3 or 4 years, if he had encountered any Japanese terms that we have no English counterparts for, and he said there were many. Like these:

Komorebi : (n. Japanese) This means “sunbeams streaming through the leaves of trees.”  Can you imagine what John Keats could have done if the English language had a single word for this ineffably beautiful aspect of nature?!

The komorebi danced upon the wings of a passing butterfly, and then fell upon her honey-ginger hair, playing there like a mermaid splashing in the shallows…

Natsukashii : (adj. Japanese) This is an adjective, usually uttered by itself, which translates roughly to “this experience is causing me to feel nostalgic and to recall fond memories.”  What a useful word for expressing that common sentiment succinctly!

e.g. Natsukashii!

Kyoikumama : (n. Japanese)  A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement and excellence. AKA a “tiger mom”.


The words and phrases of a certain culture can suggest a lot about its national mentality. For example, the Dutch vocabulary, seems to corroborate the nation’s light-hearted reputation. The word uitwaaien is Dutch for “taking a walk in windy weather just for fun.”

Goedemorgen, gentle damsel. Won’t you join me for a uiwaaien?

Goedemorgen, gentle damsel. Won’t you join me for a uitwaaien?

Others from various other languages:

Kummerspeck : (n. German)  Literally, it means “grief bacon.” Mmmmm!! It describes the excess weight gained from emotion-related overeating.

e.g. All the kummerspeck she has put on since he left her just shows how much she loved that loser. There’s a mighty big heart somewhere underneath all that grief bacon … a mighty big heart, indeed.

Drachenfutter : (n. German) Literally it means “dragon fodder.” It describes guilt-gifts or peace offerings made by guilty husbands to their wives. That’s depressing.

Backpfeifengesicht : (n. German) This means “a face that cries out to have a fist thrown at it”.

e.g. I plead not guilty, your honor, because I merely gave the young man’s Backpfeifengesicht what it was requesting.

Mamihlapinatapei : (n. Yagan) The wordless, yet weighty and meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate a romance but are both reluctant to begin.

Jayus : (n. Indonesian) – A joke told in such a poor and unfunny fashion that one cannot help but laugh at it.

Litost : (n. Czech) – Author Milan Kundera said “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” The nearest definition would be “a condition of agony and suffering created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.”

Tartle : (v. Scottish) The act of hesitating and rambling while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name. It’s perfect that this word is Scottish! Observe:


And this here little lady be the youngest of our twelve girls. Her name is...um...er...well, it's...you know the curious thing about having wee ones about is the... um....joy they bring into your domicile! Interesting word, "domicile" is. You ever considered that, sir?...Anyway, as I was saying, let's eat that hagus!

Prozvonit : (v. Czech) – To call a mobile phone and let it ring only once so the other person will call back, saving the first caller the expense of the call.

Cafuné : (v. Brazilian Portuguese) –To tenderly run one’s fingers through someone’s hair.

Ilunga : (n. Tshiluba (Southwest Congo)) – This word, famous for its untranslatability, means “the stature of a person who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”

Can you imagine saying all that with only THREE syllables???  It reminds me of this clip from an old 90’s movie:


It was a zang movie!  Here are just a few others:

Wabi-Sabi : (n. Japanese) –a way of life which emphasizes the search for beauty within the imperfections of life and the peaceful acceptance of the natural cycle of growth and decay. No wonder hippies always like eastern religions.

L’appel du vide : (n. French) – Ok, so this one is actually a phrase, which means it doesn’t really belong here, but it was too interesting to omit. Literally it is “the call of the void.” It describes the instinctive urge to jump off of high places to certain death. I’m comforted to know that I’m not the only person who hears l’appel du vide when I’m perched on some precarious height.

Duende : (n. Spanish) –The mysterious and uncanny power a work of art has to deeply move a person. How do we not have an equivalent to this beautiful concept?

Sobrinos : (n. Spanish) — Nephews and nieces, collectively (like the word siblings, it describes both genders in one group). Actually, my friend and I finally filled this void in English, by coining an equivalent to sobrinos. (You can read about it here.)

Saudade : (n. Portuguese) – Among the most beautiful of all words, translatable or otherwise, this describes “the feeling of longing for someone or something you love and which is lost.”

Luftmensch : (n. Yiddish) An impractical dreamer with no sense for conducting business.

Gumusservi : (n. Turkish)  Moonlight shining on the surface of water.  Turkish Meteorologists can easily be poets!

Mencolek : (v. Indonesian) You know that trick where you tap a person on the far-away shoulder from behind to hoodwink them into turning the wrong way? That is a Mencolek.

Faamiti : (v. Samoan) To make a squishing, squeaking noise by sucking air through the lips in order to gain the attention of a child, dog, or perhaps a luftmensch.

The “ingredients” of a new language (grammar patterns & vocab) are difficult enough to learn, but to develop the reflex that reacts to the “texture” of the words is incredibly tough. For example, when a native English speaker hears “dancer” he doesn’t think of “one who moves to the rhythms of music.” Instead, a vast network of mental imagery flashes through his mind. So, the words listed here, the “holes in your tongue”, should not be enjoyed for our own English terms that awkwardly describe them, but instead for their own textures. Understanding them should be like sipping on a fine beer: The enjoyment is not derived from knowing which specific ingredients the brewer used, but from the complete experience, sensation and emotion that comes from the liquid pouring over your tongue and sliding down into your throat.

Maybe I got a little carried away with that last bit, but it’s only because I love language very much. Anyway, can you please provide some example sentences for the ones that I didn’t have time to get to? Also, do you know of any other foreign words for which there is no direct English equivalent? I would love to hear them.


Many of the above words above can be found in Adam Jacot de Boinod’s book ‘The meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World.’

Libya and the Surprise Spelling

August 24, 2011

Linguists have parsed the multiple spellings into this handy chart.

When Libyan rebels poured into Muammar Qadhafi’s military compound in Tripoli this morning, they gave journalists heaps of material to write about –and some unexpected clarification about how exactly to write it.

Among the items the rebels discovered in the base was the Libyan leader’s eldest son’s passport, which contains the answer to a question that has eluded western writers for decades: the spelling of Qadhafi’s name.

Back in 2009, ABCNews.com published a story showing no less than 112 possible ways of spelling the Arabic name with the letters of our Latin alphabet. And according to the passport, and presumably the sinewy colonel himself, the correct rendering is among the least commonly used variations: Gathafi.

(Here’s a YouTube video of one of the rebels leafing through the passport earlier today)


The question of how to correctly transliteration of the Arabic name has previously been answered by the Washington Post as “Gaddafi”, by the New York Times as “Qaddafi”, and with the Los Angeles Times going with “Kadafi”. The U.S. State Department and atimetocastawaystones have both opted to render it “Qadhafi”.

The reason the spelling of the name has remained so ambiguous is because Qadhafi has always refused to speak publicly in any language besides Arabic  (despite rumors that he is fluent in Italian and English). But even though Arabic is fine for conducting international diplomacy, obtaining a diplomatic passport requires Latinized text — a requirement that even the soi-disant “King of African Kings” was not able to bypass. But he was able to keep it on the DL, at least until this morning.
Although the new evidence suggests that the Libyan leader favors “Gathafi”, atimetocastawaystones will stick to “Qadhafi” until such time as Muammar requests otherwise in a hand-written letter to our editors, preferably with a return address. Stay tuned for updates.