or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Voice Lesson

When I (sort of) rebooted this blog in January, I said I was done with sniping about typos and grammatical errors and the painfully obvious lack of editing in most every publication on Earth these days, but here's one so egregious I can't let it go.

In today's Toronto Star is a piece entitled "Opera queen bewitches", reviewing a Friday-night concert by American soprano Renée Fleming accompanied by pianist Hartmut Höll. A paragraph about a pair of modern songs by composer Henri Dutilleux is followed by this:

Despite being fiercely difficult and modern, both Fleming and Höll burnished the score into a melancholy magnificence….

Do modern writers and editors actually not review their copy to make sure that adjectival phrases are correctly related to their subjects? Do they not teach this in journalism school? As the sentence is written, "fiercely difficult and modern" describes the singer and pianist, not the songs they're performing, and rewriting it to be unimpeachably correct would have been so easy: "Despite its fierce difficulty and modernity, Fleming and Höll burnished the score…." would have done the job.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Mint Condition

If you are interested in opera, it will please you to know that the Belgian national opera will be streaming their entire 2012-2013 season online (this is their lineup, dates here), each opera available for 21 days after the final performance.

If you are interested in etymology, you may have been puzzling (a little) over the name of the Belgian national opera, which is La Monnaie / De Munt. "Monnaie" looks kind of like "money", and if you figure that it is, then "Munt" looks kind of like "mint", and except for the fact that opera is expensive, what do these words have to do with one another?

The official name of the opera house in Brussels — because Belgium has two official languages, French and Dutch — is Le Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, or Koninklijke Muntschouwburg, because the building was constructed on a site that had housed a mint, "monnaie" in French and "munt" in Dutch.

And where might "mint" come from, you ask. And is it related to the plant, you also ask, knowing full well that it couldn't possibly be. And fortunately, it isn't. Mint the plant is from Greek "minthe", the name of a nymph transformed, as people so often were in Greek mythology, into a plant. (Daphne, willow, hyacinth, poplar, elm, and smilax are just a few others. Seriously, there are a lot of them.)

The mint that makes coins, on the other hand, comes from Latin "moneta", which, I surely don't even have to say, is the source of English "monetary" (from "monetarius", "of money"). "Money" is from French "monnaie", as we surmised, and "monnaie" is obviously from "moneta", after some of the smoothing and softening which French generally applies to its words.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Pennies From Heaven

I am reading a fascinating, if improbably lengthy, book called The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Invented Modern Crime. The following sentences will give a sense of the book's style:

After endless testimony of Tottenham and Monson lying, cheating, forging, doctoring letters, reneging on agreements, defrauding each other and anyone else within sight, the judge reminded the jury that libel had to lower a man’s reputation in the eyes of the world. The jury found that Monson had been libelled, and valued the damage to his reputation at one farthing: one-quarter of a penny, the lowest possible denomination.

I have glancingly mentioned farthings before, but somehow never in my life stopped to think where the word itself came from. Knowing that a farthing is a quarter of a penny is the clue to its meaning: a farthing is literally a quarter — a fourth-ing.

A penny-farthing, as you probably know, is an old-timey bike that looked like this

and it got its name because a penny and a farthing looked like this

Speaking of pennies, Canada is about to cancel minting and circulation of ours, and good riddance, say I. Transactions ending in 1 or 2 get rounded down to 0, those ending in 3 or 4 get rounded up to 5, and everything will work itself out. There are something like thirty-five billion pennies in circulation, which, if Wolfram Alpha is to be believed, is 1033 per person. I am fairly sure I have at least that many, rolled and loose, in a tin in my bedroom.