Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dangers of Plastic Surgery and Other Topics -- Popcorn by The Colonel #47

After Robert Redford's "facial refresh" tragically misfired in 2007 (above), he went for whole-hog sex-reassignment surgery. It rejuvenated his movie career, but adversely affected her balance and her ability to climb steps without falling.

An optimist is someone who thinks you can pick up a piece of ordure by the clean end.

"The wrong end of the stick" apparently derives from masters beating their servants. The right end of the stick is the end in the master's hand.

"The short end of the stick" is clear in meaning (the worse end of a bargain) but obscure in literal referent. Every stick has two ends -- which is shorter?

One explanation is that "short" is a euphemism for another word. That would explain one word in the phrase, but still dark is the overall purpose of the stick that's dirty on one end. Is it a tool of troublemakers, aka "stirrers"? And what is the mental picture of one "getting" the short end of the stick? Is the victim grabbing it? Is the stick-wielder poking the victim? If you know, put it in a comment.

Possessives with verbal nouns are another mystery. Verbal nouns, also called gerunds, are verbs used as nouns, as "parting" in "Parting is such sweet sorrow." Verbal nouns can take adjectives like other nouns: "Brisk walking is his only exercise." Sometimes the adjectives are possessive: "His talking is his downfall." The problem comes in sentences like this: "They didn't like the man feeding their dogs." Does it mean they disliked the man or the feeding? As it stands, the sentence seems to mean they didn't like the man, but dollars to doughnuts a person speaking that sentence would mean they didn't like his feeding their dogs, but the speaker can't bring himself to say "They didn't like the man's feeding their dogs."

The topic has been controversial for over a hundred years; there may be a British-American aspect to it; grammarians have burnt the midnight oil devising a number of rules that still leave a big gray/grey area. Bottom line, there's no way around consulting your ear as to what sounds natural and what sounds off. Acid test: would you tell your shipoopi "Us breaking up is unthinkable" or "Our breaking up is unthinkable"?

                                            This is Mr. McKeon's office atop the Middletown Eye building.
(The other stories are underground.) Mr. McKeon says he has
stepped away from the day-to-day management of The Eye, but it 
can still be pretty intimidating when he calls you into his office and 
dresses you down for some infraction, especially if he keeps you 
waiting for 36-72 hours.

One reviewer of Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code" pointed out that among its implausibilities is that Jesus of Nazareth would have just one descendant living today. Anyone who lived two thousand years ago and has any living descendants today, the reviewer claimed, is a common ancestor of everyone living today, by mathematically provable demographic necessity. This counter-intuitive claim came up again recently. The layman's version is here and the hard math version here.

Quick asides on this: in Korea, if current naming conventions continue, everyone will eventually be surnamed Kim or Lee. "MRCA" means "most recent common ancestor."

Implications (in no special order): racism is bunk; race itself has no basis in science; everyone on Earth is probably a direct descendant of Antony and Cleopatra, as well as of King David and Sappho (not that they were ever an item); we all have famous ancestors (the same ones); we all have famously wicked ancestors  (Herod?), and we share innumerable anonymous ancestors.

If Pericles, Draco, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, or Alexander the Great have any living descendants, then Vladimir Putin, Olivia de Haviland (age 96), Robert Mugabe, Gloria DeHaven (age 87), Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Maya Angelou, and Hilary Clinton are among them, as were Martha Washington, Marie Curie, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Fictional characters, being fictional, have no nonfictional ancestors or descendants, according to science, but that's only a theory. Still, it would be pleasant to think that Uriah Heep has no descendants.

One definition of  a Jew is someone whose mother was a Jew (the matrilineal principle). That formulation is obviously circular, so another has doubtless replaced it, but it does raise the question: are we all Jews? The mathematical question is whether all living humans share a Jewish female ancestor through the female line. Mitochondrial DNA, anyone?


Anonymous said...

Does Robert Redford now look like Jennifer Lawrence following his plastic surgery? Definitely an improvement over his old appearance.

Anonymous said...

You certainly make up some weird articles, hope you not turning into a local National Inquirer

Brian Stewart said...

What about Jethro Tull?