Tag Archives: style

we have a cognate for that

If you were me this weekend, you spent your Friday night like this: playing iPad games, working through the last chapter of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and leafing through someone else’s copy of French Elle.  In other words: babysitting.  Great night.  The kid is a nerd-tastic dream who goes to sleep before 9pm, leaving me plenty of time for both necessary and unnecessary reading.

I realize that many of my recent posts have been quasi responses to various articles I have read (from more reputable sources than this blog, for example), but at the risk of monotony, I offer you one more post in which I draw inspiration from the press, or in this case, la presse.

The texture and length of my hair have, for my entire life, proven obstacles in my ongoing quest to pull off wearing a hat.  A girl can dream, though, abetted by the promises of styling tips in the outdated copies of Marie Claire scattered throughout the waiting room at the oral surgeon’s office.  French Elle promised similar hope, offering an article on chapeaux and their mode d’emploi.  Since riding helmets and soldier hats featured prominently among Elle‘s style choices, I swiftly discerned that this particular guide would have little to no effect on my wardrobe.  I continued to read anyway, discovering one, and then a smattering of English cognates.

Actually, the term cognate implies a shared root, etymology that converges if you trace it back far enough.  In this case, I’m talking more about straight up stealing.

A list of Offenses

  • When wearing a riding helmet (for style, obvi), Elle suggests casually tossing on a pair of pumps over socks “parce qu’on est fun.”*
  • The primary pitfall of wearing a bomber hat, Elle cautions, is “du too much justement.”
  • A colored blazer is the key to pulling of a beret in a look that one could only describe as “très Ivy League.”
  • I don’t even know if it’s fair to call them out for anything they say about the stetson hat.  Don’t you have to say something about Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill?

For years decades centuries, the Académie française has battled the encroachment of anglicisms and foreign influence, inventing neologisms for the sake of preserving un Français français.  Technology provides perhaps the largest contemporary inroad for anglophone influence; as innovations pour out of silicone valley so do all sorts of new terms.  Of course, even some of the most basic words are universal.  In France, the Internet is still l’Internet.  And email by any other name is still email.  The Académie has proposed alternatives, though, one of my favorites being the clunky “courriel électronique” in lieu of “email” or “mail.”

Because so much of the culture of technology radiates from the United States, the appropriation of English words seems natural.  After all, these words are new for us as well.  Who would have even known how to pronounce “ereader” 20 or 30 years ago?  How global, then, for us to share our words as we grow and develop together, as a whole world (vom).

If we share words that emerge from developing industries, though, I really want to know how France lost its grasp on the fashion industry, when for so long French has informed our understanding of luxury – from haute couture to fois gras.  Perhaps “Frenchifying” English words is enough of an innovation, these days.  No idea is a new idea anyway, right?

*All emphasis is my own.


updates from the archives

Hey.  Sorry I haven’t written in a while.  Time’s been short (like me).  Ok, I have a LOT to tell.  On the Monday of two weeks ago my friend [Rita] came to visit.


Alrighty, I can’t really remember what happened throughout the rest of these two weeks.  [Arthur] got braces.

This week [Harriet] was being all nice to me like we were best of friends.  I have no problem being nice to her, but I don’t trust her as a friend.  Anyway, I think she was being so nice because for drama we were gonna put on our play this Fri, & in the play Harriet & I play best friends.

[Henry] kinda ignored me this week & I embarrassed myself twice.

I was really sick on Wed. so I missed school.  I had a science exam the next day I’m POSITIVE I flunked.

I’ve got a lot more to tell, but I’ve gotta go now.  We have Monday off, so, don’t worry, you’ll hear all.

No, friends, what you just read is not, in fact, the first of the regular Monday updates I have vowed to write.  I have just shared with you an excerpt from my seventh grade journal.  You may note the brackets around the names; the sense of paranoia that comes with being a dork in middle school dies hard (actually, never dies).

I rediscovered all of the journals I used to keep when I was cleaning out my bookshelf in a bout of feng shui a month or so ago, and it was like meeting a completely different person.  If only I could have done this the other way around and sent a journal entry from the future to my thirteen-year-old self – a self who, by the way, kept “crush statistics” at the end of every entry.

A few days ago, my friend asked me if I ever kept journals as a kid, even though to look at me is to know the answer.  By high school I had moved on from handwritten journaling and had made my first foray into the blogosphere via livejournal, and it’s taken me until now to reflect on how the transition from analog to digital has affected my writing style.

Of course, I have grown up, and my voice has changed (although probably not as much as I think it has), but my audience has also changed.  In our conversation, I admitted to my friend that the Diary of Anne Frank had a profound effect on me; without knowing who she was writing for, Anne had written a memoir for a global audience.  I, self-consciously, began to write to an ambiguous “you,” which may have been my journal, but might also have been the readers I anticipated long after my death.  Blogging allowed me the instant gratification of a (mostly) sympathetic audience.

I am still trying to figure out to what extent the medium of blogging has affected my voice.  It has certainly made me more guarded with information.  In my seventh grade journal I tore classmates to shreds using their real names – in 100 years, who would remember them, anyway?  Now, even though none of us have kept in touch, I’m worried about posting their real names on the internet.  On the other hand, I feel almost obligated to include as many of my incidental thoughts as I can.

Maybe the internet is just like seventh grade.  I’m working, right now, on a balancing act of authenticity: on the one hand, sharing what I’m thinking, to the world, immediately; and on the other hand, wanting that world to find me, and read me, and like me.

life inside parentheses

I learned the correct way to use parentheses my junior year of high school.  As we received our first graded papers and surreptitiously flipped directly to the last page, bypassing any marginal commentary, our teacher began to talk through a list of common mistakes and stylistic faux pas she had noticed in our papers.  Parentheses were at the top of her list: containers of nonessential information, and not, for example, dates.  She continued to tell us that parentheses could (and should) be used for the kind of commentary that could liven up a paper, but did not necessarily contribute to the argument.

I didn’t realize it at the time (how could I have?), but I had just received my first lesson in metacommentary.  Fish, meet water.  Why I have not received more recognition for my innovative twitter hashtags (twinovation? twitovation? standing ovation?), I do not know.  Over the past six years of my life, I’ve been able to keep my use of parentheses down to a minimum in my formal writing, but in other more relaxed forms of communication, parentheses are the motor of my ideas.

An oft referenced fact in my unwritten style guide: sign language has a sign for open parentheses.  In fact, sign language has a few different signs for open parentheses so that a tangent can have tangents.  The benefits of having a visual, spatial, and physical language include an integrated gestural and mental idea tracking system.  Similarly, I need parentheses to keep my trains of thought organized.  What I love about signed parentheses, though, is that they don’t signify “ignore contents;” in fact, they acknowledge parenthetical ideas as important enough to require an intricate organizational system.  A lot of my best thinking occurs inside parentheses and during my quasi-structured digressions.

But now, I’m worried.  I’m worried because parentheses, as most of us know them, do still invite readers to “ignore contents.”  I’m worried that parentheses are becoming my typographical equivalent of the word “like” or the statement that sounds like a question – the linguistic ways women undermine their own ideas.

On the other hand, linguists have also touted women as innovators of language; new words and constructions tend to arise from female use and invention.  The stereotypically female “like” interjection, as explained by Muffy Siegel, is actually a way for all of us to say, “I’m thinking out loud right now” or “This is a new idea that I’m still figuring out how to explain well.”

I hope I’m innovating, but I also know I’m insecure.  I use parentheses to toy with ideas that I’m putting in print for the first time, but I also use them to comment on and criticize my own ideas as they spew onto my computer screen.  I’m reluctant to edit them out and smooth my writing out to the point that it doesn’t need the extra commentary.  I like exposing my experimental thought process.

But what if parentheses have had a permanent effect on my brain?  What if I’m allowing myself to be a lazy mess right now because I’m just figuring that this parenthetical part of my life will ultimately find its closing arc?  Have I even thought about the fact that I might just come to another opening and then another, burrowing further and further away from clear and confident articulations of myself and what I want?

I’m bad at analogies and I need to go work on my resume.