- - Sunday, February 27, 2011

Language fail

“I recently watched a television program in which a woman described a baby squirrel that she had found in her yard. ‘And he was like, you know, “Helloooo, what are you looking at?” and stuff, and I’m like, you know, “Can I, like, pick you up?,” and he goes, like, “Brrrp brrrp brrrp,” and I’m like, you know, “Whoa, that is so wow!”’ She rambled on, speaking in self-quotations, sound effects, and other vocabulary substitutes, punctuating her sentences with facial tics and lateral eye shifts. All the while, however, she never said anything specific about her encounter with the squirrel.

“Uh-oh. It was a classic case of Vagueness, the linguistic virus that infected spoken language in the late twentieth century. Squirrel Woman sounded like a high school junior, but she appeared to be in her mid-forties, old enough to have been an early carrier of the contagion. She might even have been a college intern in the days when Vagueness emerged from the shadows of slang and mounted an all-out assault on American English.”

Clark Whelton, writing on “What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness” in the Winter issue of the City Journal

Flyover sports

“This is what the NBA has become: very tall, very rich twenty-somethings running the league from the backs of limos, colluding so that the best players gang up on the worst. To hell with the Denvers, the Clevelands, the Torontos. If you aren’t a city with a direct flight to Paris, we’re leaving. Go rot. …

“The NBA used to work on a turn system. You will lose, but if you hang in there, you’ll be rewarded with a very high draft pick like an [Carmelo] Anthony, and your turn at glory will arrive. Not anymore. The superstars are in charge now. Now, you lose and you get a pick, and that pick immediately starts texting his pals to see where they’ll all wind up in three years. Pretty soon, you’re back losing again.

“Get ready, Oklahoma City. You wonder why the NFL continues to pull away from the NBA in this country? Three words: Green Bay Packers. Two more: Indianapolis Colts. The NFL finds a way to let cities that don’t happen to have a Versace store hang on to their great players like, oh, say, Peyton Manning.”

Rick Reilly, writing on “NBA no longer fan-tastic,” on Feb. 23 at ESPN.com

Martyr monks

“Once the trouble starts coming, the monks [in ‘Of Gods and Men’] understand pretty quickly that it’s should-we-stay-or-should-we-go time, and some of them are pretty definite on the go side. ‘I didn’t become a monk to become a martyr,’ one of their number states, and the sentiment seems inarguable. But the line also reminds us that there were times and places when and where practicing Christianity was inviting martyrdom. We’re told that Islamic fundamentalists enthusiastically embrace martyrdom. …

“These questions and considerations are so skillfully woven into the immediate narrative that a viewer could ignore them if so inclined. What can’t be ignored is the eventual emotional impact of the film. The deep — some might say foolhardy — conviction embodied by [Brother] Christian eventually seeps into the souls of the more skittish monks. This process is moved along by several frightened villagers making clear their deep need for the monastery’s presence. Several of the residents go into some detail on how the monks made their current, relatively placid (up until now) lives possible. When a monk invokes the metaphor of birds perched on a branch with respect to their situation, a woman of the village corrects that monk: You are not the birds on the branch, she says to him; you are the branch.”

Glenn Kenny, writing on “Of Gods and Men,” on Feb. 24 at MSN Movies

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