Target Practice

From Henry Fowler’s immortal 1906 Modern English Usage, a table of commonly confused terms:

fowler table

“So much has been written upon the nature of some of these words, and upon the distinctions between pairs or trios among them, that it would be both presumptuous and unnecessary to attempt a further disquisition,” Fowler wrote. “But a sort of tabular statement may be of service against some popular misconceptions.”

Last Lesson

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anker_Die_Dorfschule_von_1848_1896.jpg

Multiplication is mie vexation,
And Division is quite as bad,
The Golden Rule is mie stumbling stule,
And Practice drives me mad.

So wrote an anonymous English student in 1570. Matters had not progressed far in 1809, when 6-year-old Marjorie Fleming wrote in her diary: “I am now going to tell you about the horible and wretched plaege my multiplication gives me you cant concieve it — the most Devilish thing is 8 times 8 & 7 times 7 it is what nature itselfe cant endure.”

Alas, the feeling is sometimes shared. After serving four years as a teacher, D.H. Lawrence wrote:

When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?
How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart
My pack of unruly hounds: I cannot start
Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,
I can haul them and urge them no more.
No more can I endure to bear the brunt
Of the books that lie out on the desks: a full three score
Of several insults of blotted pages and scrawl
Of slovenly work that they have offered me.
I am sick, and tired more than any thrall
Upon the woodstacks working weariedly.

And shall I take
The last dear fuel and heap it on my soul
Till I rouse my will like a fire to consume
Their dross of indifference, and burn the scroll
Of their insults in punishment? — I will not!
I will not waste myself to embers for them,
Not all for them shall the fires of my life be hot,
For myself a heap of ashes of weariness, till sleep
Shall have raked the embers clear: I will keep
Some of my strength for myself, for if I should sell
It all for them, I should hate them —
— I will sit and wait for the bell.

See Such, Such Were the Joys.

Payment in Kind

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Slave_Market-Atlanta_Georgia_1864.jpg

When I was about seven years old I witnessed, for the first time, the sale of a human being. We were living at Prince Edward, in Virginia, and master had just purchased his hogs for the winter, for which he was unable to pay in full. To escape from his embarrassment it was necessary to sell one of the slaves. Little Joe, the son of the cook, was selected as the victim. His mother was ordered to dress him up in his Sunday clothes, and send him to the house. He came in with a bright face, was placed in the scales, and was sold, like the hogs, at so much per pound. His mother was kept in ignorance of the transaction, but her suspicions were aroused. When her son started for Petersburgh in the wagon, the truth began to dawn upon her mind, and she pleaded piteously that her boy should not be taken from her; but master quieted her by telling her that he was simply going to town with the wagon, and would be back in the morning. Morning came, but little Joe did not return to his mother. Morning after morning passed, and the mother went down to the grave without ever seeing her child again. One day she was whipped for grieving for her lost boy. Colonel Burwell never liked to see one of his slaves wear a sorrowful face, and those who offended in this particular way were always punished. Alas! the sunny face of the slave is not always an indication of sunshine in the heart.

— Elizabeth Keckley, Behind the Scenes; or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, 1868

The Elizabeth Whitman Mystery

http://books.google.com/books?id=eUwzAQAAMAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s

In May 1788, an expectant mother arrived in Danvers, Mass., and took a room at the Bell Tavern. Friendless and a stranger to the area, she said that her husband would join her shortly, but she would not give her family name. Evidently from a genteel family, she kept to her room, reading, writing, and sitting anxiously at her window. A woman who saw her during evening walks described her as handsome, with a sad face.

June passed into July, no husband appeared, and she became the subject of local gossip. At length she gave birth to a stillborn child, and she herself died two weeks later, of puerperal fever. Among her effects was found a letter:

Must I die alone? Shall I never see you more? I know that you will come, but you will come too late. This is, I fear, my last ability. Tears fall so, I know not how to write. Why did you leave me in so much distress? But I will not reproach you. All that was dear I left for you; but I do not regret it. May God forgive in both what was amiss. When I go from hence, I will leave you some way to find me; if I die, will you come and drop a tear over my grave?

With it was a poem:

With fond impatience all the tedious day
I sigh’d, and wish’d the lingering hours away;
For when bright Hesper led the starry train,
My shepherd swore to meet me on the plain;
With eager haste to that dear spot I flew,
And linger’d long, and then with tears withdrew:
Alone, abandon’d to love’s tenderest woes,
Down my pale cheeks the tide of sorrow flows;
Dead to all joys that fortune can bestow,
In vain for me her useless bounties flow;
Take back each envied gift, ye pow’rs divine,
And only let me call FIDELIO mine.

A newspaper appeal eventually confirmed that she was Elizabeth Whitman, a minister’s daughter from Hartford, but the identity of her lover has never been discovered. Her epitaph reads:

“This humble stone, in memory of Elizabeth Whitman, is inscribed by her weeping friends, to whom she endeared herself by uncommon tenderness and affection. Endowed with superior genius and acquirements, she was still more endeared by humility and benevolence. Let candor throw a veil over her frailties, for great was her charity to others. She sustained the last painful scene far from every friend, and exhibited an example of calm resignation. Her departure was on the 25th of July, A.D. 1788,in the 37th year of her age, and the tears of strangers watered her grave.”

Rules of Engagement

http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Gen._%22Stonewall%22_Jackson,_C.S.A_-_NARA_-_529728.tif&page=1

Stonewall Jackson’s precepts for good conversation, from a book of maxims he collected in the 1850s:

  1. Ascertain in your conversation as well as you can wherein the skill & excellence of the individual lies & put him upon his favorite subject. Every person will of his own accord fall to talking on his favorite subject or topic if you will follow and not attempt to lead him.
  2. If you seek to improve in the greatest degree from the conversation of another, allow him to take his own course. If called upon, converse in turn upon your favorite topic.
  3. Never interrupt another but hear him out. There are certain individuals from whom little information is to be desired such as use wanton, obscene or profane language.
  4. If you speak in company, speak late.
  5. Let your words be as few as will express the sense you wish to convey & above all let what you say be true.
  6. Do not suffer your feelings to betray you into too much vehemence or earnestness or to being overbearing.
  7. Avoid triumphing over an antagonist.
  8. Never engross the whole conversation to yourself.
  9. Sit or stand still while another is speaking to you. [Do]not dig in the earth with your foot nor take your knife from your pocket & pare your nales nor other such action.
  10. Never anticipate for another to help him out. It is time enough for you to make corrections after he has concluded, if any are necessary. It is impolite to interrupt another in his remarks.
  11. Say as little of yourself & friends as possible.
  12. Make it a rule never to accuse without due consideration any body or association of men.
  13. Never try to appear more wise or learned than the rest of the company. Not that you should affect ignorance, but endeavor to remain within your own proper sphere.
  14. Let ease & gracefulness be the standard by which you form your estimation (taken from etiquett).

“Good breeding, or true politeness, is the art of showing men by external signs the internal regard we have for them,” he wrote. “It arises from good sense, improved by good company. It must be acquired by practice and not by books.”

Flak

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Letter to the Times, April 27, 1910:

Sir,

Motor-cars are bad enough, but they do not come into one’s house or garden. With aeroplanes total strangers may drop in, through the roof, for a little chat at any time. I fear the law cannot protect one against such intrusion. If aviation becomes popular I shall have spikes, with long strong prongs, fixed on the chimneys of my house, and the word ‘Danger’ painted in large red letters on a flat part of the roof. If any flying machines come down in my garden I shall send for the police to remove the occupants, whom I shall sue afterwards for any damage to my trees or shrubs.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

H.B. Devey

The Good Life

“A gentleman never looks out of the window.” — Oscar Wilde

“Gentlemen do not take soup at luncheon.” — Lord Curzon

“Gentlemen are never busy — insects and city people are busy.” — Beau Brummel

“A gentleman never encircles the lady’s waist in the waltz until the dance begins, and drops his arm as soon as it ends. He studies to hold the lady lightly and firmly without embracing her.” — The Manners That Win, 1880

“A gentleman never sits in the house with his hat on in the presence of ladies for a single moment. Indeed, so strong is the force of habit, that a gentleman will quite unconsciously remove his hat on entering a parlor, or drawing-room, even if there is no one present but himself. People who sit in the house with their hats on are to be suspected of having spent the most of their time in barrooms, and similar places. A gentleman never sits with his hat on in the theater. Gentlemen do not generally sit even in an eating-room with their hats on, if there is any convenient place to put them.” — Arthur Martine, Martine’s Perfect Letter Writer and American Manual of Etiquette, 1866

Love Maps

heine lieder map

This “geographical love enigma” appeared on a German postcard in the early 20th century. Travel north to south through each successive country (green, red, purple, yellow), naming the geographical features you encounter in each, and you’ll produce the fourth song in Heinrich Heine’s Buch der Lieder:

Wenn ich in deine Augen seh,
So schwindet all mein Leid und Weh;
Doch wenn ich küsse deinen Mund,
So werd ich ganz und gar gesund.

Wenn ich mich lehn an deine Brust,
Kommt’s über mich wie Himmelslust;
Doch wenn du sprichst: “Ich liebe dich!”
So muss ich weinen bitterlich.

When I look into your eyes,
Then vanish all my sorrow and pain!
Ah, but when I kiss your mouth,
Then I will be wholly and completely healthy.

When I lean on your breast,
I am overcome with heavenly delight,
Ah, but when you say, “I love you!”
Then I must weep bitterly.

http://combiendebises.free.fr/

The French greet one another with kisses on the cheek, but the number of kisses varies with the département. In 2007 Gilles Debunne set up a website, Combien de bises?, on which his countrymen could record their local customs; to date, after more than 87,000 votes, the results range from 1 kiss in Finistère to 4 in Loire Atlantique.

“It’s a lot more subtle than I ever imagined,” Debunne told the Times. “Sometimes the number of kisses changes depending on whether you’re seeing friends or family or what generation you belong to.”

Disputed Disputation

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Some states permit less-than-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. If a person is convicted of a crime in such a state by a jury that splits, say, nine to three, then has the defendant’s guilt been proved beyond a reasonable doubt? Does the mere existence of outvoted jurors (or their doubts) establish a reasonable doubt that should overturn the majority’s vote to convict? In Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U.S. 356 (1972), the Supreme Court faced this question and held that it does not; even a split jury can convict a person beyond a reasonable doubt. But in Johnson, the Supreme Court was itself split as much as it could be, five to four. Is there a reasonable doubt as to what constitutes reasonable doubt?

— Peter Suber, The Paradox of Self-Amendment, 1990

Doom Roulette

http://www.google.com/patents/US4834657

With Jose Gonzalez’ “punishment wheel,” patented in 1989, a misbehaving child can randomly choose the punishment he’ll receive. “From the child’s point of view, it appears that an inanimate object is choosing and imposing the punishment, instead of his parents. Direct parent-child conflict is thereby eliminated.”

Available punishments, provided on decals, include NO TV, TIME OUT, GROUNDED, 2ND CHANCE, NO DESSERT, DONATE A TOY, PARENT’S CHOICE, K.P., NO ALLOWANCE, NO SPORTS, NO PHONE, NO FRIENDS, KID’S CHOICE, SWATS [a spanking], NO VISITING, NO TREAT, and HOUSE CHORES. But “the punishments need not be those shown in Fig. 4, but could be any set of punishments, expressed in any language, deemed suitable for the disciplinary style of particular parents and degree of maturity of their child.”