May 13 - The word of the day is "Paraskavedekatriaphobia," which is a fear of Fridays the 13th. I've dealt with this before, in an Almanac much too rambling to cite independent extracts here.
(I don't actually offer a "word of the day" feature, partly because I haven't been writing on a daily basis for several months and partly because it's a big pain in the ass to try and come up with an appropriate word for every given day. I did offer a Danish "Dagens Ord" for a while, though. That wasn't so bad. Maybe I'll get back to that.)
I had my mock interview for the Danish Folk Party at Studieskolen last night. It went surprisingly well, thanks in large part to some serious softballs pitched by the mock interviewer, a fellow American. Sample question:
"We're looking for someone who is creative, independent, self-starting, and can inspire others. From your resume it looks as though you may meet these qualifications."
"Yes, I do."
The one problem I encountered was when the other mock interviewer, a Brit whom I've known over a year now, stressed the importance of ideology to the Danish Folk Party and asked, with a twinkle in her eye, if my politics were an appropriate match for the party.
I stammered for a moment, uttering a series of pleasant-sounding non-sequiturs while scrambling internally to arrange an appropriate response. Then I somehow got around the question by explaining that it was difficult to answer because the media had so badly distorted the party's true perspective that it was hard to ascertain what it actually was. I explained that I thought I could help them better present their point of view to the public, and that the very fact of my foreignness would help allay concerns that they were anti-foreigner. The credibility of their "we-don't-really-hate-immigrants" defense would increase significantly if they took on a foreign mouthpiece.
One of them pointed out that I hadn't worked in politics for a dozen years or so. I explained that I'd left politics all those many years ago in Los Angeles because I was no longer excited about the political ideas at play in America. I said I was now excited about politics again, and that I loved Denmark, and that I wanted to take the experiences and skills I'd acquired over the intervening years and put them to use in the political sphere.
I did all of this with zest and enthusiasm, smiling incessantly and maintaining cheerful eye contact. It was only this morning, in reflection, that I realized the sheer magnitude of what I'd accomplished.
I can bullshit in Danish!
* * *
I don't know if there's a word in Danish that corresponds to the American usage of bullshit, but if there were going to be a Dagens Ord today it would surely be en floskel, which is more or less what we mean when we use "bullshit" as a noun to describe anything except actual taurine excrement. En floskel is a fine-sounding, meaningless expression, and the term apparently finds most usage in descriptions of political discourse. (I know this sounds more like a platitude, but it's not: they use plathed or platitude for that. There's also en flovse, which is simply a banal and pointless utterance—what we might call fluff or twaddle.)
Is bullshit the only English equivalent of floskler? Have we no common, single word synonymous with bullshit in this sense? Puffery? Not very common. Spin? Implies a conscious manipulation of facts that floskler lack.
Bullshit itself may not always be the best translation anyway, since it can also be used to describe an out-and-out lie ("he said he'd pay me back Friday, but that was bullshit"), whereas I don't think calling something a floskel is intended to connote deception.
The best translation of en floskel that I can find from an authoritative source is "an empty phrase." But surely we have a single word for that. Surely a country sustained on the gaseous utterings of its political class can do better.
* * *
We also seem to be missing a word that corresponds to at sjuske, a brilliant verb that means to screw up, to fuck up, to mess up, and so on.
And while I'm at it, how about at tie, which means "to withhold from speaking," or "to not say something." The imperative form is ti (also the word for "ten"), and what a beautiful imperative to have at your disposal!
And what a gorgeous mine of opportunities for a sketch in which an impatient teacher is trying to teach a bunch of first-graders to count to ten:
"Repeat after me: one.."
[And so on]
"Nine. . ."
"I said ten!"
"Ten! Ten! Ten!"
I actually think that's pretty funny, so you can see what this damn language is doing to me.
* * *
In addition to preparing for my big Danish test on the 24th, I'm also trying to prepare for my Danish driving test. I have to take the test to get my Danish license, which I need because a characteristic lapse of attention allowed my New York driver's license to expire in March. I'm not prepared for the test at all, so Trine has urged me to get the appropriate training materials from the library. I've checked online, and they're all reserved into the middle of June.
Maybe I can just floskel my way through the test. . .
It was on May 13, 1568, at the battle of Langside, that Mary Queen of Scots was defeated by the English. Her heroic stand is worthy of remembrance, but it's interesting to speculate how she might have fared if she had brought along some soldiers.
About 200 years later, on May 13, 1787, the first fleet of ships carrying convicted criminals left England en route to a new British prison called Australia.
You'd think that by sending their religious nuts to North America and their criminals to Australia, the British would have created a pleasant little island paradise for themselves. Instead their empire has dwindled away over the past 100 years, while the religious nuts and criminals of the U.S. and Australia have established themselves as major powers at Wimbledon.
It's a strange world.
* * *
Skylab was launched 32 years ago Saturday.
The first inoculation against smallpox was administered on May 14, 1796, by Edward Jenner, whose descendant Bruce would become an Olympic decathlon champion. This medical wonder came only four days after Napoleon's army defeated the Austrians in the Battle of Lodi.
Exactly twenty-two years prior to that, King Louis XV had died of smallpox (on May 10, 1774). When he died, Louis XVI became king, and only five years later (on La Quatorze Juillet, French for "the Fourth of July"), the Revolution began (mostly because Louis's wife kept telling everyone to eat cake), which resulted in the Rain of Terror, which resulted, eventually, in Napoleon.
Which practically brings it all full circle, if you're not a stickler for circularity.
The Sykes-Picot Address
Four-score and nine years ago today (May 15), Mark Sykes and Georges Picot carved apart on the Asian continent an old empire: conceived in secrecy, and dedicated to the proposition that Britain and France should score a piece of the action.
Now we are engaged in a great global war, testing whether that area, or any area so conceived and so dedicated, can overcome its troubled past and learn to prosper. We have seen the great battlefields of that war on television.
I have come to dedicate this page as a final condemnation of those shortsighted twits who carved up the Ottoman Empire in such a way as to guarantee a century of war and horror. It is altogether fitting and proper that I should do this.
But, in a larger sense, I cannot dedicate—I cannot consecrate—I cannot hallow—this page. The bumbling idiots, both dead, who wrangled that agreement have consecrated it, far above my poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what I say here, but it can never forget what those jackalopes did on May 15, 1916.
It is for we the morons, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work of perpetuating the names of Sykes and Picot in infamy. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before all of us—that from these damn fool dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave no a single measure of foresight—that we here highly resolve that those fools shall not escape blame-free—that the blight they bore, an abhorrence under God, shall live in infamy forever—and that the peoples of the lands of the former Ottoman empire shall enjoy governments of the people, by the people, and for the people, and that Imperial cartography shall perish from this earth.
And may we never have to clean up their mess again.
(It was on May 15, 1916, that Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and Georges Picot of France, with Russia's assent, confirmed their agreement to carve up the tottering Ottoman Empire between them. America wasn't in on the deal.)
* * *
On May 16, 1763, James Boswell first met Samuel Johnson in Tom Davie's London bookshop. Due to the lax stalking laws of the period, Mr. Boswell followed Mr. Johnson around for several decades. On May 19, 1795, Mr. Boswell died. (This could not have come a relief to Mr. Johnson, who had already been dead for some time and was probably relishing the privacy.)
Birthdays and Holidays
Harvey Keitel turns 66 on May 13. He shares his birthday wtih Dennis Rodman (1961), Stevie Wonder (1950), Richie Valens (1941), Joe Louis (1914), Daphne du Maurier (1907), and Empress Maria Theresa (1717).
George Lucas turns 61 on the 14th. You think he timed the release of Episode III with that in mind? (Me neither.) It's also the birthday of Bobby Darin (1936).
Emmitt Smith turns 35 on the 15th, and shares his birthday with Eddy Arnold (1918), James Mason (1909), and Joseph Cotton (1905). That's as good excuse as any to rent a copy of The Third Man. (That and the damn theme, with the balalaika or whatever the hell it is that stays stuck in your head for a week whenever you see the movie.)
The 13th is Second Coup d'Etat Day in Comoros.
Liberia celebrates National Unification Day on the 14th, which is also Kamuzu Banda's Birthday in Malawi and Independence Day in Paraguay.
Enjoy the weekend!
© 2005, The Moron's Almanac