I was "chatting" with Nev (the Metrolingua British English Consultant), and he mentioned that in Friesland, where he lives, they speak Platt, which is Low German:

Low German (also called Netherlandic or Plattdeutsch) gets its name from the geographic fact that the land is low (nether, nieder; flat, platt). It extends from the Dutch border eastward to the former German territories of Eastern Pommerania and East Prussia. It is divided into many variations including: Northern Lower Saxon, Westphalian, Eastphalian, Brandenburgian, East Pommeranian, Mecklenburgian, etc. This dialect often more closely resembles English (to which it is related) than standard German.

He said it's a mixture of Dutch, German, and English, which means we should have a much easier time trying to decipher what the people are saying. Which means that maybe German isn't so scary after all.



I said last week that I was going to go to an art installation by Luftwerk. Since I've met the artists before, I figured it would be pretty good because they're decent people. But I had no idea how elegant, beautiful, and refined the installation would be.

I was so affected by the work when I saw it on Friday, I couldn't stop thinking about it. So I went back yesterday. Todd Carter added some sounds to complement the piece, and I was still as entranced as when I first saw it, especially since the experience was enhanced with the sounds.

Usually, I'm not so affected by contemporary art, but Luftwerk really achieved the sublime, even though the technology was modern and, at first glance, cold.

It had the same effect on me as an exhibition I saw about the Medici family at the Art Institute of Chicago a couple of years ago. I went back to that exhibit three times because I was so struck by the excellence and beauty of what the artists had created.

I think that when art transcends the grit of daily life, and artists care to be conscientious about maintaining integrity in what they produce, it can be very inspiring and edifying.


American-British English dictionaries

I was doing a search for a British term, and came upon a simple yet informative American-British dictionary. Those Brits certainly can make simple things complicated, like "Band Aid," which is "Elastoplast" in their land. They make it sound like some futuristic device.

They also know how to be quaint: we commoner Americans say "garbage truck," but they get all cutsy on us and say "dustmen's lorry." Fancy, too: our "zucchini" is their "courgettes." And I thought they weren't too keen on the French.

Another more extensive Brit-American dictionary can be found at a Scottish dude's site. It's hard to figure out what his profession is, though he's got a lot of pics and other stuff over there.

But the important thing is that he created the massive dictionary. He says:

As a Scot who has spent some time in the USA on holiday lately, I have discovered a bewildering array of words which are in common use on our side of the pond and invariably mean nothing at all or something exceedingly rude on the other side. I once noted down about fifteen of them and that afternoon formulated them into this dictionary. Since then the dictionary has thrived (well, lived) on contributions from readers and is steadily growing into a decent reference.

Over 800 people have helped him out with the dictionary.

Breaking news: I sent Nev (the Metrolingua British English Consultant) the link to the first dictionary I mentioned, and he said:

The only issue I know with dictionaries ever is that they've all got far too many words in them, and it's never possible using them to know what people actually say.

I've never heard anyone, for example, in Britain, ever describe a plaster as an elastoplast. Sure, there's a brandname, but it isn't a household name like "Band Aid" is. I think lists of equivalent words are interesting, but my language theory is that learning any new language is 20% listening and 80% using hands and feet to describe what you mean. I can't imagine a situation where it would ever really be necessary to know both the American and British equivalents just to get by in English.

Good to know that he could send a swift reply in spite of the time difference. Now if only he'd come to the U.S., to see how we really talk.


Thai-Japanese dictionary

This is very exciting, even though I don't know any Thai (in spite of going to Thailand at least a few times): a Thai-Japanese/Japanese-Thai online dictionary called Saikam, which is "the first online Thai-Japanese/Japanese-Thai dictionary development project initiated by The Association of Thai Professionals in Japan (ATPIJ) and became a research project at the National Institute of Informatics (NII) in 1999. Saikam has a unique feature which allows both users and developers to access the database across the Internet. Dictionary data can be accessed and updated at the same time."

But wait, there's something there for us non-Thai speakers: a kanji dictionary. And get this--you don’t have to type in hiragana to get the kanji; you can type in the romaji reading for a character, the stroke count, and frequency, and it will give you a selection of corresponding kanji! And it will also give you compounds. This is really helpful if you need to look up something but don’t have the ability to type out hiragana (as seems to be the case on PC's).

They also have a full kanji list. Just click on any kanji to get the reading.

It seems like they're hoping to have both English and Thai translations of the compounds, so if you want to provide English translations and have time to kill, you can contact the admins of the site.


I'm going

This is a heads-up for anyone in the Chicago area. I got an invite to a multimedia installation, and I'm planning to go. More info about the artists can be found at the Luftwerk site.

Name: Convergence
When: June 24, 25, 26 7-10 pm
Where: Open-End, 2000 W. Fulton #310

Update: I just viewed this post on a PC, and it's screwed up the formatting of the entire blog, so I removed the invite (which had a picture and interesting fonts). That's why I've just typed out the info about the exhibit above.


Great day

I met some friendly writers today. Someone told me about J.A. Konrath's book release party, and I decided to drive all the way up to Schaumburg to check it out. This is part of what the invite says (which can be found at his website):

"Plenty of books will be available...there will be beer and appetizers on my dime, and afterwards everyone is invited back to my place for some serious partying."

Note that he said "on my dime." It was all-you-could-drink beer and food that was plentiful. How many authors would throw a party for their readers? And we really were invited to his place, so I went there, to further explore northwest suburban life.

I had a great time, and I also got to meet some authors who were nice and fun to talk to:
Thomas J. Keevers, Robert W. Walker, Raymond Benson, and Tim Broderick, who's done a graphic novel and has some work at Modern Tales.

The funny thing is, I'm not really into mysteries, thrillers, or gore, but I was surrounded by those types of writers. But I'll take a non-snobby writer who writes in a different genre to a snobby one any day.



I just found out that my article about propaganda has been posted at Wisegeek. Here's the beginning of what I wrote:

"Propaganda is the manipulation of ideas, images, and symbols to persuade a large group of people to think a certain way. The goal of propaganda is to prevent people from questioning the message or from thinking critically outside the perameters of the message so that the message is considered an unchallangeable truth."

You can read the rest of the article there, in addition to a couple other articles I wrote about corporate gift baskets and custom orthodics.

Okay, they aren't the most exciting topics in the world, but another article I did that's more interesting was actually a part of helping someone else out, so I can't post it.



Klingons are the only alien group on Startrek that has their own language, and I found an online Klingon Dictionary. It's real--just type in the English word you want translated, and voila--you're on your way to speaking fluent Klingon.

You can also read about the Klingon Discrepancy Theories. Which means that if you learn enough Klingon, you'll be able to discuss this important matter with the Klingons in their own language. It's not just cross-cultural, it's cross-galaxial.



I was at the Printers Row Book Fair today and saw Studs Terkel speak. He was praising various people, including Garrison Keeler, who hosts Prairie Home Companion. Which made me want to post this, since it hasn't occurred to anyone else, it seems: I think Prairie Home Companion seems like a rip off of the play Our Town, which basically features a vaunter (ie, blowhard) talking about insignificant things in a small town. When I've mentioned this comparison to other people, they either didn't see what I was talking about, or it had never occurred to them before. So we'll see if this idea takes off.



I was just thinking about marketing and public relations, since I sometimes work on those types of projects and hear different kinds of conversations about it going on around me, especially when I'm in a cafe.

There aren't many books that every type of person will buy, unless it's fiction that appeals to a wide variety of people and has characters that represent different backgrounds and genders. If it's non-fiction, perhaps a celebrity will cast a large net over potential readers, but in other cases, there aren't many non-fiction books that can be huge sellers in a large market.

I love buying and reading foreign-language books (in addition to magazines). A popular publisher among people who are studying Japanese is ALC. The most recent book I bought was どんな時どう使う日本語表現文型500 [Donna toki dou tsukau nihongo hyogen bunkei] or 500 Essential Japanese Expressions (the English subtitle), which was published by them. And they seem to have a corner on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test market, since they used to publish the Nihongo Journal and have released even more books on learning Japanese since quitting the magazine. But what also helps their marketing is their site that has excellent dictionaries and other help, including audio files.

They don't have to do that--they can just publish their books and relax. But it's that extra service that they provide that makes people like me appreciate them, which helps when I'm deciding on a Japanese book to buy.

I think a cool concept is offering a free book or mini-book online. Seth Godin posted a free e-book online while it was also available in print. Incredibly, he sold tens of thousands of copies of that book, Unleashing the Idea Virus, as a result (now it's only being sold). Even though the free book isn't at his site anymore, you can get it at a music promotion site and get other free books there as well. His book wasn't about music, and neither are some of the others, but those look helpful for any kind of marketing.

Offering a book for free is a good idea, I think, especially if someone has a "following" and/or a big media presence.


On again

A lot has been happening lately--it could be the great weather we're having in Da Windy City or it could just be life proceeding on an upward trajectory.

First, I'd like to briefly talk about the Kraftwerk show I saw this past weekend. It was great, and I found a positive review in the Chicago Tribune, while the New York times panned it. I have a lot more to say about the Times' reaction, but basically, they just don't get it. New York is the cultural capital of the U.S., yet the Kraftwerk concept of Man-Machine and the band's visual and musical expression of that concept was perhaps too abstract for the reviewer to grasp, probably because he was expecting a group that glorifies itself through superstar maneuvers and extreme effects. Kraftwerk has revolutionized music and they are unapologetically themselves--quite German, quite restrained. Too bad an American reviewer is imposing the "bigger is better" stereotypical perception. I'll have more to say about it later.

The morning after the concert, I stopped by Rick Kogan's show again, where I've been before, and ended up expressing my opinions on the air about the creative writing scene in Chicago, and offered some "critiques" of poetry by Charlie Rossiter and Al DeGenova. It was fun, and those guys are cool. They're going to be performing at the Blues Fest this week.

French is waiting, but I'll have more to say later.


More about Chav

Chav is such an interesting concept (which I posted about before), that I let Language Hat know about the Chav site, and he pointed me to another site that further describes the word:

The Burgeoning Chav Nickname List

Chavvy(s) - alternative
Chavies - alternative spelling
Charver - London
Ned - Scotland
Spide - Ireland
Townie- alternative to Chav
Kevs - in the Midlands (thanks to wertperch)
Shaz - a female Chav (thanks to a scar faery)
Scallies or Scally- Liverpool (been around for a long time)
Ratboy - popularised in Viz comic
Kappa Slapper - Viz comic

(The rest are all nicked from chavscum.co.uk)

Scutters - erm... Red Dwarf?
Hood Rats
Trevs - East Grinstead (thanks to Helen4Morrissey)
Scranners - Sheffield - (Helen4Morrissey again)

The origin of the word seems to have lots of possible sources. Now that British journalists have just recently discovered the word, all the papers seem to have an opinion as to its origin and are proudly announcing it as the word of the year. Hmm. One dumb hack wrote that it was a contraction of 'Chatham average', Chatham being a town in Kent, but this is certainly wrong. Another dubious source is an acronym derived from 'Council House Violent'. For decades, Chav was a traditional phrase used by Londoners 'she dropped a Chav' was used to mean 'gave birth'. In this context, 'Chavs' are simply 'kids' apparently deriving from 'Chavi' a Romany word meaning 'boy'. So we have an etymological contender that fits the bill...but used by caravan gippos.