Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I've been reading Walkabout by James Vance Marshall for the NYRB book group on GoodReads. The story is more  famously known in the version told in the Nicholas Roeg movie of the same name. In the introduction to the NYRB reprint of the book, Lee Seigel begins with this fact and goes on to say:

"...the movie is so strikingly different from Marshall’s affecting parable as to verge on travesty. It is a brilliant travesty, though, one that adds a curious urgency to the book’s very different, apparently old-fashioned pleasures, which, as it turns out, have a good deal to tell us now."

I was struck by this because, though I haven't seen the movie for many years, travesty wouldn't be one of the words I'd associate with it. And "brilliant travesty" sounded more to me like an oxymoron. Obviously, my sense of the word travesty as "a shocking desecration of the original" could do with some fine tuning. At the very least.


Well, my sense was more or less right, but I have now understood better how brilliance might play into it. A travesty is a burlesque of an original, more serious work. It comes into print around the 1670s, after the slightly earlier adjective, meaning to dress ridiculously or in parody of something. It was borrowed from the French travesti, or "dressed in disguise", back through the Italian travestire, to disguise, to the Latin transvestire--to clothe over. As you can see most clearly in the Latin, there is a link here with transvestite, which contains hints of all these things--clothing over, disguising, and burlesque--but that word actually came to us through the German Tranvestit.Though it has the same Latin roots, it was coined in about 1910.

As for brilliant travesty, two examples have come to light during my research. One much cited is the play within a play, Pyramus and Thisbe, in A Midsummer Night's Dream. But brilliant in a different sense is Don Quixote, a travesty of the Medieval romances that the good knight is said to have read, but also superseding them. I found one article on satire that claims that travesty is to genre what parody is to a single work, but I wonder if it isn't a bit more elastic and slippery a term than that.

After all, a lot of things can happen when you go around in disguise.

That's actually James Cagney under the ass's head, believe it or not.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


This was just one of those things I never thought about, and never would have thought about if I hadn't made a mistake. I was reading the Bookwitch blog the other night, where the blog author recounts an amusing curtsey story from childhood. You can read all about how Swedish girls were brought up once upon a time HERE.

I was impressed, as one of the many things not really included in a California education is a lesson on how to curtsey to important people. Probably a lack, but never mind. I wrote in the comment field, though, that I had never learned to courtesy. Didn't notice it till this morning when I was reading through some of the other comments. Never learned to courtesy? I had never thought about how close the words were in sound. And in meaning when you started to think about it.

Turns out I wasn't so far from wrong. Curtsey or curtsy is just one of those word drifts. A curtsey, or curtsey, or courtesy, or even courtsey (but Wikipedia says this is wrong, though it does make you wonder where the line is drawn, and by whom) are all just different ways of spelling the little dip which signifies a gesture of courtesy. And courtesy is just having courtly bearing or manners, or so says the Online Etymology Dictionary anyway. The Old French was curteis, because it goes without saying that we got it from France.

Interestingly, the word was not exclusively of a female gesture, but I guess it's not surprising that women remembered to show deference longer. The written appearance of the word curtsy in English was about 1540, but the use of it to signal the classic bowing of the knee not till 1570. It takes awhile to bend the knee, I suppose.

Not if you're a Texas deb, though. When you have to bow in deference, might as well make it big. Wikipedia clued me in to this one. When you go to the Waldorf-Astoria for the International Debutante's Ball, and are formally introduced here's what happens:

The young woman slowly lowers her forehead to the floor by crossing her ankles, then bending her knees and sinking. The escort's hand is held during the dip. When the debutante's head nears the floor, she turns her head sideways, averting the risk of soiling her dress with lipstick.

Now I looked through a few images to find one as an example, but in none of them was the escort holding her hand. The times are changing, even in Texas, where, like elsewhere, women are doing it for themselves.

 (The gif of the constantly curtseying woman is a Wikipedia slice from the work of the great Eadweard Muybridge, in case you didn't know. The Texas dip deb is from the White Rock Lake Weekly from a couple of years ago. I'd credit the photographer, but there is no attribution.)

Thursday, April 3, 2014


No, not me. I'm just the same as always, and let's just say that dealing with the bureaucracies of both Covered California and the IRS in the same season does not find me at my best. So I'm a little caught up in other things at the moment, but after posting the "Happy in Tripoli" YouTube on my last post, I couldn't resist posting a cover of the same song. I have to say that this is the first time ever that I have actually found a certain former vice-presidential candidate appealing, not to mention a good sport.

And since I'm on vice-presidents, I must mention the description of our actual vice-president, Joe Biden, who was characterized on the Rachel Maddow show the other night as "the joyful id of this administration".

I'd like to be the joyful id of something. But it doesn't look too likely in this lifetime.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The best thing I've ever done with this blog

For people who associate this blog mainly with thinking more about words, it may be a bit surprising to learn what I think is far and away the best thing I've done here. And it really has nothing to do with what I wrote, but the incredible number of great comments it generated. Way back in March of 2011, I wrote a post about Wheelus Air Base in Libya, where my parents met and married. This had something to do with the fact that my mom had died a few months before, and that Libya was currently undergoing a revolution. It was also triggered by a strange encounter I had in the bookstore. Anyway, you can read about it HERE.

What I didn't anticipate was the surprising number of blog commenters who had in some way come in contact with the place in that era or shortly afterwards. Most of them were people who had been kids on the base, but it's actually a kind of varied crowd. And almost every one of them took the time to share their experience of being there. I have tried to steer them to a larger website called Bahrain DC, which has much more material and photos and where they might be more likely to find long lost friends, but leaving that aside, I am incredibly grateful that they have left their memories on this blog.

Recently, I had an interesting comment from Terence Sharkey, who had been in Libya in 1955 as a young actor and ended up on the base during that time. If you have access to Amazon Prime, you can watch the movie he was in HERE. Mr. Sharkey plays Daoud Holland.

I'd been meaning to post about all this for awhile now, but today one of the commenters who has popped in their from time to time posted this upbeat music video from Pharrell Williams, called We Are Happy in Tripoli. As "circuitmouse" points out on his blog, all we ever hear about Libya is the bad news these days, and yet, of course, people go on and live their normal lives there as always.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Santa Cruz Shakespeare"--good news

In the midst of not being able to figure out Covered California, and before moving on to taxes--beset on all sides, really--I thought it might be a good idea to write up a kind of update on something that's gone better than anything in my own life has in the last few days.

When I last reported in here, things were not looking too good for Shakespeare Santa Cruz, beloved summer theatre here in UCSC's fabled redwood glen. But things have changed a bit over the last few months and there will in fact be some performances in the glen this summer. It will not be by Shakespeare Santa Cruz, however. It will be by Santa Cruz Shakespeare, which seems to have been part of the bargain worked out between the university and the theatre company. Santa Cruzans are a recalcitrant lot, though, and I hope that a similar thing may happen as did with our own Dream Inn, after it was purchased and renamed by a company, becoming the West Coast Santa Cruz Hotel, and then the Coast Santa Cruz Hotel. Locals just kept on doggedly calling it the Dream Inn throughout this unimaginative era. It is now the Santa Cruz Dream Inn.

Yes, those words you can't read say "Santa Cruz"

I don't think they can do anything to us if we keep right on calling it Shakespeare Santa Cruz, but I could be wrong.

A couple of things have happened to give the near future a brighter outlook. One was a huge outpouring of community support. The second was getting some big names on board, or rather, on the board. Patrick Stewart has signed on, having had a close connection to Santa Cruz and to its founder Audrey Stanley and the former artistic director Paul Whitworth since his early Star Trek days. But there are also theatre faculty from Yale and Princeton involved as well. Here's an article that gives more detail.

As theatre professor Jim Bierman was telling us last night, theatre companies are rarely self-sustaining things. Ticket sales alone don't do it. They need patronage. And they take awhile to reach the height of their powers, to gain their reputations. That was one reason the threatened demise of Shakespeare Santa Cruz seemed particularly painful. It was just at that point of coming into its own.

"Santa Cruz Shakespeare".  I guess I'll get used to it.

Monday, March 17, 2014


This one is just a random discovery. I was using the word in something I was writing, and realized that I didn't know how to spell it. "The hoosgow" is one of the many slang words for jail, so it wasn't something I was wondering about. I was using the word because I think of it as slightly outdated slang but really didn't have any other particular interest in it. I thought it had a slightly German sound, or maybe came from one of those Middle European immigrant communities, like the Czechs or the Polish.

Nope. Hoosgow is from the Spanish. Mexican Spanish more probably. It's actually a western U.S. kind of thing, not an eastern or Midwestern one, although I'd imagine made near universal with the world popularity of American westerns. It seems to have come into print around either 1908 or 1911--I'm getting some varying info on that, but Dictionary.com casually says its an Americanism from the 1860s. The Spanish word is juzgado. In any case, not a word for "jail" but for a court or tribunal.

It's funny, I've been brushing up my Spanish lately and juez or judge is one of the ones I've come across in the process. I was rather pleased that the Spanish made sense to me, but if there is a more variant spelling of juzgado than hoosgow (or hoosegow), I'd be hard pressed to find it.

Pop quiz: What famous film duo starred in the title featured above? The answer can be found HERE

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Penny University, 40 Years On

The discussion group that I've mentioned here every once in awhile is one that I've attended with varying degrees of faithfulness and regularity for quite some time. The Penny University, in any case, has been in my life for longer than it's been out of it, and that by a long ways. I wasn't there at the founding but it wasn't so very long afterwards that I found my way down to the coffee shop where it was held, and in some ways it marks my continuous connection to Santa Cruz better than anything else. Old leaders have passed on to that great university in the sky, and even the location has changed a few times, but the Penny remains its quintessential self.

Some day perhaps I'll record my own impressions and recollections of the group over time, but the fortieth anniversary of the group was observed about a week and a half ago, and a friend told me that she had seen an article in our local paper about the celebration, so I just remembered to look it up. It's a pretty good account of what the group is all about, so I thought I'd give you a link to it HERE. If you're looking at the first picture, I am at the very  far left back, and fortunately, you can't see me at all.

Here's a photo I found from back in the time when one of the original founders, Mary Holmes, was still alive, sitting with our current leaders, professors Jim Bierman and Paul Lee.