Monday, July 17, 2017

Names, Titles and Some Usage Notes

It is perhaps unsurprising that there should be fashions in first names, perhaps influenced by movie stars or more arcane sources. What is certain is that the fashion for Ryan is besieging us ad nauseam, starting with the obnoxious Ryan Seacrest on morning TV. But there are Ryans lurking or larking in every nook and cranny. Consider, for example, the three kids who alternate as Charlie in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” on Broadway: two are outright Ryans, and one has Ryan for middle name.

True, some years ago there was the movie star Ryan O’Neal, father of the movie star Tatum O’Neal, but is that explanation enough? When it came to popularity, there were the likes of Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Tyrone Power, and several others, admittedly star daughterless, but none of them begetting a nomenclatural avalanche. Is it just that Ryan slips off the tongue more fluidly than any of the aforementioned three? Ryan may generate illusions of originality by not being a calendar name, but, again, neither are the cited three. Only Gary Cooper may have occasioned some Garys, a mere rivulet compared to the swamp of Ryans. But then why hardly any Carys from Grant?

There are even—horrors!—some female Ryans, but no Spencers, albeit quite a few Tracys, possibly inspired by “The Philadelphia Story.” The quasi-Irishness of Ryan may also account for its favor with Irish Americans, as Bruce may appeal to Scottish ones, and Tony, or Anthony, may be the bequest of Italy. But there are very few Fritzes or Adolphs, for which blame two world wars and Hitler.

On the female side, except for some by now out of fashion Marys and Marias, there are four single or groups of names that hold sway, though even added together no match for the Ryans. They are Megan (sometimes foolishly Meghan, since the silent H needlessly duplicates the G); Katy or Cathy or other offspring of Catherine; countless variants of Christine--mostly of the Kristen, Kirsten and Kirstin version--which may have seemed original until they became ubiquitous, eliciting even a New Yorker cartoon; and Jenifer, valiantly solitary, what with Jenny barely a ripple. There is, to be sure, the beloved J-Lo, who may play a role in this. I doubt very much that most parents were cognizant of its Celtic origins as Winifred or Winifrid, meaning, as Eric Partridge points out, “white wave or stream.” Altogether, etymology figures rather less than euphony when it comes to naming.

I wonder, though, why none of these is comparable to Ryan, which may also usurp its closeness to the Hibernian Brian or Bryan, meaning “strong,” and as such, I think, appealing to the shillelagh-brandishing Irish. As for Katy and its derivatives, may they have something to do with the beloved Hepburns, Katharine and Audrey? I wonder also why there should be four top women’s names as over the single one for men. Are the parents of females slightly less regimented than those of males? If so, why?

In my own case, I don’t worry about the frequency of Johns. Let me quote Partridge’s book “Name This Child”: “The name owes most of its vast European popularity to the Evangelist; its brevity and strength have contributed to make it, in the minds of the majority, the finest of all ‘Christians.’ From Hebrew: ‘God is gracious.’” Q that about God’s graciousness in the light of the Holocaust and Babi Jar, and see how welcome you will be to survivors. Apropos Evangelists, why does John outperform the other three? In any case, my only problem with John is that when I hear it in a crowd, it often makes me turn my head in vain. I also slightly resent all the Jons, whether or not they are abridgments of Jonathan.

To be sure, names and titles can be problematic. Take Shaw, who expressly stated that he wanted to be known as Bernard rather than George Bernard, yet to a vast majority he remains the latter. This despite the fact that all collections of his works and books about him have him as Bernard, granted that relatively few people actually read them. Those few include American producers and publishers  nevertheless clinging to George Bernard. This may have to do with fear that the great unwashed may assume Bernard to be somebody other than George Bernard and stay away. In Germany, where he was steadily popular in translation, he always was just plain Bernard.

And now: how many times , even in my blog posts,  have I insisted that Ibsen’s play should be “A Doll House,” and not “A Doll’s House.” The genitive “doll’s” merely suggests the house of the heroine, Nora Helmer. The nominative, ‘doll’ alludes to the children’s toy, the miniature, to which the patriarchal Torvald Helmer has reduced the Helmers’ adult home. Conscientious translators all stick with the nominative, but are far outnumbered by the genitivists. Even the successful current Broadway sequel by Lucas Hnath, “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” persists in the error.

Again, how many people misspell the name of the distinguished Dwight Macdonald as MacDonald? Admittedly, the pronunciation is identical, but the spelling to any literate reader is an eye- or mindsore. Mispronunciatian, however, is flagrant in Chicago, where Goethe Street is largely pronounced as trisyllabic Go-ea-the Street.
In fact, if you correctly pronounced it the German way, a cabdriver wouldn’t know what you meant.

In France, however, the name Mozart is universally Gallicized into Mozarr even by intellectuals who know better, as a result of chauvinism rather than ignorance. But at least a cabbie knows where you want to go. And while we are on pronunciation,
how often does one cry out that the word is groceries, and not grosheries? And how come that in a prominent hospital I spent time in, not a single nurse said “lay down” instead of lie down? Should I protest in my correction, or just let sleeping dogs lay?


  1. Hey, I used to live in Sandburg Village near Go-ea-the Street!

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Ah, the sight of a 14-year old Uncle K field-dressing his first deer - piece by piece by bloody piece. Believe that’s called a rite of passage. Me, I lived a block north of Goethe on Schiller Street. We never could figure out why the streets were named after asshole German poets no one had ever heard of!

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Wow! Pretty disappointed. My comment above was deleted by a "blog administrator". I don't even remember what the post was about. Anyway, I apologize for anything offensive that I may have written.

  2. I was going to rank/list the best Ryans that ever lived, but nothing interesting came up on my Google searches. They're mostly baseball players and no talent Hollywood persons. Is Ryan Reynolds considered a "hot property"? I doubt it. Ryan Gosling? Not really.

    Interestingly enough, there are two pornographic actresses with the first name of "Ryan". Ryan Conner and Ryan Keely.

    One of the most intriguing Ryans is Ryan Leaf. Once a million dollar pro football player who went to prison for drugs and burglary is now out and doing better. He's married a 6'3" volleyball player and they're naming their child "Macgyver".

    I've always had trouble with "lie" and "lay" and "laid" and "lain". Past, present, and how to conjugate. Famous song titles that are wrong?
    "Lay Down Sally" (E. Clapton)
    "Lay Lady Lay" (B. Dylan)

  3. All of you guys are savvy film fans. Answer this question.

    I recorded "The Emigrants" on TCM the other night. I remembered liking it quite a bit. Now, the film is getting on my nerves. I don't like it as much. Could it be that they're showing the dubbed version? I seem to remember subtitles before. Could this make that much difference? The film now is almost unwatchable.

    Get back to me with a full report.

    1. "The Emigrants" and "The New Land" are movies I always wanted to see, after reading John Simon's review. I avoided the VCR version. Criterion finally put out a boxed set. My public library acquired it. By today's standards the saga is plodding, but worth the effort. I can't imagine watching it dubbed.

    2. Thank you! It's terrible dubbed. It's like the old Japanese flicks where the mouths don't match what they're saying. Woody Allen did a hysterical movie called 'Tiger Lily' (or something to that effect). He showed the actors speaking, and then he dubbed in some really strange dialog. Not a bad movie.

    3. Considering that the main "drama" of the immigrant experience is not being able to speak the language, all that lost with dubbing.

      I saw "What's Up Tiger Lily?" again in the nineties. Was still amusing I recall.

  4. No full report but in the 1930’s Jorge Luis Borges reviewed films in Argentina. Including KING KONG, THE INFORMER, THE PETRIFIED FOREST, NOW VOYAGER, THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS plus this opinion on CITIZEN KANE: "...not intelligent, though it is the work of genius -- in the most nocturnal and Germanic sense of that bad word." Here’s his opinion of dubbing way, way back in the day:

    1. Thanks, Joe. That's an interesting take by Borges. Clear as mud. : )

      Amusing lines?

      "Why not publish our admiration for this distressing wonder, for these industrious phonetic-visual anomalies?"--Huh?

      "Hollywood had just enriched this inane teratological museum"--Okay

      "There is no supporter of dubbing who doesn’t finally evoke predestination and determinism."--Well, now!

      Please go back to your research and get back to me on the 'morrow. In English. : )

  5. Argotcha

    Mr. Simon's heart went reeling
    When he heard, "How are we feeling?"
    He pointed in the nurse's direction,
    "You!" It was his last correction.

  6. The nurses you complain about correctly used the intransitive lie; lay must have a direct object. See Garner's 4th, pp. 553-54 if you remain confused. And let those nurses be!

  7. Park it over there honey

    My frown I cannot hide,
    Troubling my mind:
    John Simon's preferring
    To hear "lay down,"
    "Lie down" abjuring.
    Could it be he is so inclined
    To consider himself implied?

    1. The best line is "inclined". (I rhymed that) Possible double meaning? Great title!

    2. Yes, I leaned toward "inclined" for that reason. I was thinking, when in grammatical doubt around John Simon one could fake a Southern accent. But what if you get it right? I have nightmares about it. You just gotta watch for the nose crinkle and improvise. It's ironic because he has a heavy accent, which to real Americans (ha ha) can sometimes be off-putting, depending on how your day is going.

    3. I remember when the foreign accent was considered alluring, but alas, not as much these days.

      Simon is a great writer, and I mean great. He doesn't do it quite as well verbally, although he does okay with TV interviews and such. I prefer reading him rather than listening to him.

      The thing with Simon is he doesn't like very much. The positive reviews are rare. And, I've seen him rip some excellent films which aggravated me a little bit. (Once, hungover and frustrated with John Simon's taste in movies, I threw a coffee cup onto the carpet and the carpet became stained.)

      My top 10 films panned by John Simon:

      10)The Ice Storm
      9) Hannah and Her Sisters
      8) Magnolia
      7) Short Cuts
      6) My Own Private Idaho
      5) Frenzy
      4) Blue Velvet
      3) Memento
      2) Raising Arizona
      1) Boogie Nights

    4. Ned Rorem of all people said something like: "Who writes better prose than John Simon?" Simon certainly doesn't admit to any guilty pleasures, or surrender thought to the "immediate experience." Yet his likes and dislikes seem to break his rules as much as they follow them. But isn't that the definition of a true artist?

    5. John Simon is a pleasure to read, but I disagree with about 75 percent of what he says. That's a conundrum. You're reading something, and enjoying the hell out it, but being pissed off at the same time.

      Not only movies but music and poetry come into play here. He doesn't like Mozart, the Beatles, or Charlie Parker. He talks badly of poets such as Creeley and Bly. These are giants in their fields and worthy of praise by everyone. It's disappointing in a way. It's not a good thing that a young person might be dissuaded from experiencing an artist because of careless and subjective comments. That's my only gripe.

    6. Simon has said that he is not a reviewer but a critic. In my opinion the one thing he cannot be faulted for is being careless. He is more often called a snob for taking "entertainment" too seriously.

      As for young people, have you read "Fourteen For Now"? It is a collection of short stories chosen by Simon to show young people that there are many ways to tell a story. It is a paean to subjectivity, not meant to dissuade but to liberate.

    7. Despite what he says, Simon's more of a reviewer than a critic. A "review" implies a paper written with an entertaining aspect to it, which Simon is certainly striving for, while a critique is somewhat academic in nature (in many cases). Now, I've read many of Simon's academic papers, and they're very good, but for the most part his movie and drama reviews are not like them (thankfully).
      And, John Simon has a careless (or reckless) aspect to his writing. That's part of what makes him so good. Simon wouldn't hesitate a second before throwing someone or something under the bus if he thought it would garner a chuckle, or a raised eyebrow, from one of his readers. He loves shocking people, which again, is part of why he's so good.

    8. Just look at the passage above here that I wrote. Who am I kidding? I try to sound smart, but it's obvious that I'm a two-bit fraud (see? another cliche). I have no idea what I'm talking about. "Oh, a critique is somewhat academic in nature" ?? What the fuck? I need to utterly shut the hell up and stop trying to pretend that I'm smart. I'm dumb. I'm dumb as a fucking boulder. Part of the problem is having to write inside of this fucking tiny box. Who can write inside of a goddamn little box like this?

      "HEY! BLOGSPOT! Try and make your writing area larger than a fucking inch!

      Whenever my previous thought disappears above the blue line, because this damn box is so small, I lose my concentration. I forget what I'm talking about. See? I did it again. What the hell was I talking about? I don't know because everything has scrolled above the sight line.

      "But, UK, you have a scroll bar."
      "I know that Numbnuts, but I'm too damn lazy to use it."

      You guys capisce? It could be the herb I'm smoking, but more than likely it's the tiny box I have to write inside of.

      One foot note I'd like to ask your opinion about. My wife's family does something strange. When they finish using the bathroom they walk into the kitchen and wash their hands in the kitchen sink. When I first saw this I was like--what the fuck? And, it was not just one of them. It was the entire damn family. Mother, Father, kids, Grandpa, Grandma. You name it, they all stroll out of the bathroom (god knows what's dripping off of their fingers) and they wash up right there where we clean and prepare food. It wouldn't be so strange, except they ALL do it.

      I've since trained my wife that we don't do that around MY house. Her reply was, "to lift the damn seat when I piss". I told her I'd think about it.

    9. See? A perfect example of how dumb I am. I don't proofread before I hit "Publish". I spelled "footnote" >> "foot note". God!!! How dumb can you get?

      Now I have to debate whether to delete the entire thing and resubmit the corrected version, which makes me look even worse because "now I'm afraid" that Simon will see the mistake and think I'm dumb (like he doesn't know already--he's fucking Harvard grad). The problem is, the screwed up version of your post goes to everyone's email, so even if you delete it they still know how dumb you are. If you delete the bad version and resubmit a corrected version, it makes you look like a douchebag that really cares what some disembodied entity thinks of your writing skills which you know aren't that good anyway because you never got much training in that area because you stupidly decided to major in computer science which made you some money but was boring as all get out.

    10. I forgot to mention this in my previous posts. I just received "F is For Fake" from Netflix. Of course, Welles' last film. Some say his greatest, but I doubt that. Canby liked it. Ebert liked it. I've never seen it. I'm popping it in the old DVD player tonight. 70 inch TV screen with Dolby sound. The wife will absolutely hate it and leave the room after 10 minutes I'm sure. Screw her. There's a quote from the film that's interesting and I think Simon would like it. It's from a poem by Kipling.

      WHEN the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden's green and gold,/
      Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;/
      And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,/
      Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: "It's pretty, but is it Art?"

      Here's a link to the whole poem:

    11. Funny, UK, I was going to reply to your last reply to me but thought it would be just covering the same ground. Then you, possibly sensing the same thing, answered yourself with a torrent of original material.

      A podcast called "Road to Cinema" got me interested again in Orson Welles, all the crazy stuff he did in exile. "My Lunches With Orson" by Henry Jaglom is an entertaining book. Jaglom is right up there with Peter Bogdanovich in terms of Welles adulation.

      That led me back to "F is for Fake." I couldn't remember if I had seen it before, maybe snippets of it - it all becomes one big phantasmagoria. At any rate, it seemed new to me. As usual, wildly inventive visually, but not quite sure what it wants to say, expect to restate that Art (aka "Welles") is "magic."

      I avoid the "little box" by using notepad. So much easier. Yet despite that, I still miss typos. They suddenly appear after I've posted.

    12. U.K., you're too hard on yourself. You're smarter than the average bear, believe me! Everyone makes misteaks when leaving blog comments.

      'F for Fake' is pretty good, esp. the freeze-frames of the guys on the street ogling the lead actress. And 'My Lunches with Orson' is terrific --- at one point Jaglom asks Welles why he dislikes someone --- Welles responds, "Why do I need a reason? I just don't like him. I don't need a reason."

    13. Okay, I finally got to see "F is For Fake". Loved much of it, some I didn't understand, and thoroughly dug the large cape Orson wore so he could cover up how fat he was. I also found the book with Simon's review of the film in it, which I've read before but had forgotten what his opinion was. Predictably, he didn't like it much. Probably correctly.

      Not a great film, but a lot of it is charming due to the two forgers, and Welles himself. Lightweight stuff, which is perfectly fine. Not everything is capable of shattering your perceptions about life itself. I didn't feel as though I wasted 90 minutes of my life.

      The best thing about "F is For Fake" is Welles himself. He's so confident and charming in front of the camera. This got me to thinking about great directors also being great (or at least interesting) actors in their own films or other director's films.

      I won't even go into the silent era directors (Chaplin, Stroheim, Keaton, etc). Here are my Top 10 director performances:

      1) Orson Welles (The Third Man, Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, Othello, Catch-22, King Lear)
      2) Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Eyes Wide Shut)
      3) John Huston (Chinatown)
      4) Woody Allen (Pick one of your own)
      5) Roman Polanski (Chinatown, The Pianist)
      6) Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction)
      7) Kenneth Branagh (Several)
      8) Spike Lee (Several)
      9) Billy Bob Thorton (Slingblade)
      10)David Cronenberg (Last Night)

    14. I would add indie director Tom Noonan, who has excelled in his own films (The Wife, What Happened Was...)---highly recommend both!---and those of others' (Manhunter, etc.).

    15. Welles, special case.
      Pollack was a true actor. He started as one and always was one.
      Huston, like Welles he played himself.
      Tarantino, an embarrassment.
      Branagh, great actor, has no business on this list.
      Spike Lee, worst actor ever, deserves to lead a film wiht Madonna. Let's rais $500 million for it and make the biggest bomb in history.
      Billy Bob Thornton, real good at playing morons.

      What about Werner Herzog in Jack Reacher?
      What about the great Eric von Stroheim (Grand Illusion)?

      And for the worst ever ever, try Coppola, who nearly ruins Apocolype in four seconds (the beach newsdirector).
      Sophia nearly ruined Godfather III, or did she?

      The best actor-director ever, and by a distance, was Charles Chaplin.

    16. Some fine exegesis. (See me get all "John Simon" on your ass?)

      I'd love to comment more here, but I'm going out of town. Gotta get ready. I'll leave you with one thought, however. As "Jimmy" in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino does a phenomenal acting job.

      Pulp Fiction >> You ever notice they're in plain sight squirting off bloody hit men in the backyard? How do they know the neighbors won't look out during breakfast and see all the blood and everything? Do they get dressed in the sport clothes out there too?

    17. Did Chaplin really "act" though? Yeah, he had the goofy smile, the painted on face, and expressive eyes, but he didn't talk (in his greatest roles). How can you tell he was great actor? That's why I left out him, Stroheim and some of the other silent era dudes. I haven't seen Grand Illusion, so I might change my mind if I ever see that one. I think 30's era French films are pretty overrated, however.
      Love, love, love Herzog in 'Reacher'. And Thorton plays one of the top 100 characters of all time in "A Simple Plan" as that wacko brother. Terrific performance. Slingblade was good too.

    18. Thornton was great too in the Coen Bros. 'The Man Who Wasn't There', with the 15-year-old ScarJo!

    19. Had forgotten this role. He was great. Nice call.

    20. Spent the weekend with a movie buff friend, he clued me in on some oldie-but-goodie A/V stuff I'd never heard of:

      The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)

      The Wrong Box (1966)(directed by Bryan Forbes)

      Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance Vs. Judas Priest (1991)

    21. Chaplin wasn't anymore a great 'actor' than Harold Lloyd. The greatest actor director was Larry Oliver. Welles was a great *voice* actor. Facially, he had problems. The most *successful* actor/director has to be Woody Allen.

    22. Welles was a much more than a great voice actor. I won't even try to qualify that assessment. His canon speaks for itself.

  8. Apropos of nothing besides love of the arts, here's a link to an amazing archive of historically important classical-music-and-beyond radio programs:

    1. Nooch, this is a great site. Listened to the Ragtime clip and the Brian Eno interview (so far). Good stuff!

    2. Thanks, U.K. --- be sure to check out pianist Claude Frank's brilliant spoof of the 1947 movie 'Song of Love' --- Frank's impersonation of K. Hepburn is even better than Martin Short's!

  9. As I cabdriver in New York many years ago I took delight in remembering a troupe of four Texan women clamber into my car, delighted in the middle of the fine night. There were wearing plenty of money and glitz, likely staying in a swank hotel, and having a good old time.
    One said, "Hi. Take us to Húghs-ton street, please."
    I replied, "I will, but in case you would like to know, it's pronounced Hows-ton street."
    "Well, that's funny," she replied. "Why would you want to go and mispronounce it?"
    I could have kissed her. But the point is, in Texas the city currently under water is Houston, but in New York it's Hows-ton Street. That's just the way it is. There is no right or wrong. There is just custom. In fact, I went and looked once, and in fact the Texas Houston is the more correct in the sense the Houston, England is pronounced like theirs, not ours.
    But custom and usage wins the day. It's Glás-go, not -gow as in cow. It's Montreal in the U.S., not Monreál. It's Paris not Paree. And if one pronounces a play too well one comes off as a snob. The best practice is to perform a polite approximation but don't do it too well. Van Go is just fine; Fahn Goche would get you thrown out of the bar.