or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I haven't written anything worth its weight in electrons for over a week because it is the end of summer and it just too damned hot to write. Or do anything else. If I had central air conditioning, you wouldn't be able to stop me, but I am just not built for heat. At least it will all be over in a couple of weeks.

Not today, though. The sun was a dark, vicious red-orange this morning, the reddest sun I've ever seen, and you know what they say:

Red sky at morning, sailors take warning
Red sky at night, sailor's delight

and any sailors might well take warning, because all or most of a hurricane is headed our way. Tomorrow we'll be lashed with rain, a couple of inches of the stuff (it sounds so much worse in metric--40 to 50 millimetres), and as a consequence it is warm and disgustingly muggy, as it has been for days now. Enough!

And now on to some dudgeon!

I have actually written several things for both of my blogs but I couldn't work up a head of steam about any of them. This, though, is different. This sort of thing really ticks me off. The title of Quentin Tarantino's latest film, "Inglourious Basterds", may bug the hell out of you, but at least you can sort of guess where it's coming from. (The second word, in particular, is obviously meant to forestall any advertising problems.) But the script for the movie has been posted online the first half here and the second here, and I read as much of it as I could stand; not much, as it turns out. The man may or may not be able to direct, depending on your point of view (I think he, as with Mark Twain's Wagner, has great moments but dreadful quarter-hours), and he may or may not be able to write dialogue (highly overrated and far too stylized, in my opinion), but he can't write anything else, and he obviously doesn't read.

The proof:

Two mistakes in one tiny excerpt, and believe me, there are a whole lot more where they came from.

"Sit's" is inexcusable for any literate person. It's a common mistake: lots of (not to put too fine a point on it) borderline literate people like to shove apostrophes in wherever they can, usually as a sort of signal flag that an ess is coming along pretty soon. Anybody who has even a half-decent grasp of English learns that apostrophe-ess has two meanings, possessive ("Quentin's bad writing") and contractive ("it's just awful", "it's" being a contraction of "it is"), and that there is no instance in English in which an apostrophe is used in a present-tense verb.

What really gets my goat, though, is in the first sentence up there. Anybody who does not read at all might mishear "carafe" as "craft" and fuse the two words in their head. That's pretty unexceptional. But if you read at all, you will sooner or later come across "carafe", not a particularly rare word, and put two and two together and realize that you were mistaken, and laugh about it, and get it right from then on.

This drives me crazy. Tarantino is famously literate in film, mostly foreign cinema and trashy b-movies. He can get words down on paper and get his point across: he's not illiterate. But the entire script from start to finish makes it clear that he doesn't read. A sampling: to pluralize the surname "Dreyfus", he uses "Dreyfus's" and "Dreyfusis", but never seems to stumble across the correct form, "Dreyfuses". He uses "there" instead of "their", a mistake that most grade-school children have been trained out of. "Gourd" is "goard", "rodents" is pluralized as "rodent's" and "areas" as "area's", he thinks "debt" is spelled "debit"....and that's as far as I got. Perhaps the movie is a masterpiece. Certainly any of the mistakes in the script either won't be audible or will have been ironed out by a script editor (so that Brad Pitt is not saying "debit" and sounding like an idiot). Perhaps none of these things matter. But isn't it troubling that a scriptwriter who is famous for his dialogue is such a sloppy writer?

In order to have any sort of mastery of English, you have to do two things. You have to hear the language being spoken, and you have to read the language. If you do only one to the exclusion of the other, then you are going to miss out on things and misunderstand others. (I'm not immune. I used to think--a long time ago!--that "mores" was pronounced with one syllable, instead of the disyllabic "more-ays" that it is, from Latin. Once I had heard it pronounced instead of just reading it, I immediately have figured out what was going on. Since it's the sort of word that can easily come up in print but is not that commonly used in speech, it took a while.) If you only read, you're going to get some pronunciations wrong (unless you are particularly diligent in looking these words up), and if you don't read at all, you're going to mishear plenty of words and, if you ever end up writing them down, look uneducated. And who wants that?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually quite liked the movie- I built all 9 reels of it for our theatre, and screened it into the wee hours. Much better than I would've guessed, seeing as I don't really like much of Tarantino's repertoire.

I don't believe I've ever heard "Mores" as anything but monosyllabic, but I'll continue treating it like I do "forte":
the wrong way, because I'll continue to be understood by all but the most pretentious of folks. Saying either the correct way will require explanations occasionally.

Saturday, August 22, 2009 3:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Debit" is used in the movie but it may reflect a regionalism of the Smokey Mountains, or a hallmark of the character's speech.

One of my linguistics profs came from Oregon, and she mentioned that gotten/boughten and similar forms were characteristic of speech there.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 3:14:00 PM  

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