Termed Out Nice Again

In 2013, I made a key discovery that disturbed and distressed core members of the non-conformist maverick community on a global basis dot dot dot… In America (or so it appeared) a key lexical marker of non-conformist maverickness was rapidly declining in terms of core usage, thusly:

At the same time, the non-conformist maverick community in Britain had maintained their core commitment to this key lexical marker of etc, thusly:

I expressed my puzzlement at the decline of “in terms of” in America. I couldn’t see a linguistic explanation and should (I now realize) have expressed doubts about the reliability of the data. Yes, in 2020 I’m very happy to report to members of the non-conformist maverick community that they need be disturbed and distressed no longer. The term has turned and it seems Google’s nGram wasn’t working properly at that time-period. Key statistics for core usage of “in terms of” are now in core accordance with key expectations, thusly:

“in terms of” (American English)

(open in new tab for larger image)

“in terms of” (British English)

Sadly, however, non-conformist mavericks in French- and Spanish-speaking countries seem to have stopped being non-conformist:

“en termes de” (French)

“en términos de” (Spanish)

Peri-Performative Post-Scriptum

The title of this incendiary intervention radically referencizes a key catchphrase of core comedian George Formby (1904-61), viz, “turned out nice again”. Formby’s home-county of Lancashire (England) was — and remains — a core hotbed of non-conformist maverickness dot dot dot

Core discussion around “in terms of”…

Seis Segundos de Salvador

“Será tan breve que ya he terminado,” — Salvador Dalí, Con la frase “Ja soc aquí”, Dalí abrió una surrealista conferencia de Prensa, El País, 25×1980

   Salvador Dalí […] once gave the world’s shortest speech – six seconds in duration. He said, “I will be so brief I have already finished,” and he sat down. — Edward O. Wilson

Previously pre-posted

A Seriously Sizzling Series of Super-Saucy Salvadisms — more good quotes by Salvador Dalí

FractAlphic Frolix

A fractal is a shape that contains smaller (and smaller) versions of itself, like this:

The hourglass fractal

Fractals also occur in nature. For example, part of a tree looks like the tree as whole. Part of a cloud or a lung looks like the cloud or lung as a whole. So trees, clouds and lungs are fractals. The letters of an alphabet don’t usually look like that, but I decided to create a fractal alphabet — or fractalphabet — that does.

The fractalphabet starts with this minimal standard Roman alphabet in upper case, where each letter is created by filling selected squares in a 3×3 grid:

The above is stage 1 of the fractalphabet, when it isn’t actually a fractal alphabet at all. But if each filled square of the letter “A”, say, is replaced by the letter itself, the “A” turns into a fractal, like this:

Fractal A (animated)

Here’s the whole alphabet being turned into fractals:

Full fractalphabet (black-and-white)

Full fractalphabet (color)

Full fractalphabet (b&w animated)

Full fractalphabet (color animated)

Now take a full word like “THE”:

You can turn each letter into a fractal using smaller copies of itself:

Fractal THE (b&w animated)

Fractal THE (color animated)

But you can also create a fractal from “THE” by compressing the “H” into the “T”, then the “E” into the “H”, like this:

Compressed THE (animated)

The compressed “THE” has a unique appearance and is both a letter and a word. Now try a complete sentence, “THE CAT BIT THE RAT”. This is the sentence in stage 1 of the fractalphabet:

And stage 2:

And further stages:

Fractal CAT (b&w animated)

Fractal CAT (color animated)

But, as we saw with “THE” above, that’s not the only fractal you can create from “THE CAT BIT THE RAT”. Here’s what I call a 2-compression of the sentence, where every second letter has been compressed into the letter that precedes it:

THE CAT BIT THE RAT (2-comp color)

THE CAT BIT THE RAT (2-comp b&w)

And here’s a 3-compression of the sentence, where every third letter has been compressed into every second letter, and every second-and-third letter has been compressed into the preceding letter:

THE CAT BIT THE RAT (3-comp color)

THE CAT BIT THE RAT (3-comp b&w)

As you can see above, each word of the original sentence is now a unique single letter of the fractalphabet. Theoretically, there’s no limit to the compression: you could fit every word of a book in the standard Roman alphabet into a single letter of the fractalphabet. Or you could fit an entire book into a single letter of the fractalphabet (with additional symbols for punctuation, which I haven’t bothered with here).

To see what the fractalphabeting of a longer text in the standard Roman alphabet might look like, take the first verse of a poem by A.E. Housman:

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves. (“Poem XXXI” of A Shropshire Lad, 1896)

The first line looks like this in stage 1 of the fractalphabet:

Here’s stage 2 of the standard fractalphabet, where each letter is divided into smaller copies of itself:

And here’s stage 3 of the standard fractalphabet:

Now examine a colour version of the first line in stage 1 of the fractalphabet:

As with “THE” above, let’s try compressing each second letter into the letter that precedes it:

And here’s a 3-comp of the first line:

Finally, here’s the full first verse of Housman’s poem in 2-comp and 3-comp forms:

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves. (“Poem XXXI of A Shropshire Lad, 1896)

“On Wenlock Edge” (2-comp)

“On Wenlock Edge” (3-comp)


This is a possible lower-case version of the fractalphabet:

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #49

• «Планета есть колыбель разума, но нельзя вечно жить в колыбели.» — Константин Эдуардович Циолковский (1911)

• “Planet is the cradle of mind, but one cannot live in the cradle forever.” — Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Sigh-Lent Night

Morrissey’s stag night, like sim. Descriptive of a public house peopled entirely by broken men of indeterminate age staring silently at their half-empty pint glasses. […]

mortal adj. Refreshed (qv) within an inch of one’s life.

mortal combat n. Fighting between intoxicated fellows. Or occasionally, in the case of certain self-sufficient Harold Ramps (qv), between a single intoxicated fellow. — from Roger’s Profanisaurus: Das Krapital, The Revolutionary Dictionary of Bad Language (Viz 2010)


Album primo-avrilesque, meaning April-Foolish Album, is a collection of visual jokes published by the French humourist Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) on 1st April 1897. Note that some of the captions can’t be translated fully into English, because they use French idioms that refer to color.

Combat de nègres dans une cave, pendant la nuit
Negroes fighting in a cellar at night

Stupeur de jeunes recrues apercevant pour la première fois ton azur, O Méditerranée!
Astonishment of young naval recruits seeing for the first time your blue, O Mediterranean!

Des souteneurs, encore dans la force de l’âge et le ventre dans l’herbe, boivant de l’absinthe
Pimps, still in the prime of life and with bellies to the grass, drinking absinthe
(Pimps were then known as dos verts or “green-backs”)

Manipulation de l’ocre par des cocus ictériques
Handling of ochre by jaundiced cuckolds
(According to one page I’ve found, coucou is the name given to some yellow wild-flowers, and cuckolds can be yellow with jealousy)

Récolte de la tomate par des cardinaux apoplectiques au bord de la mer Rouge (Effet d’aurore boréale)
Harvesting of tomatoes by apoplectic cardinals on the shore of the Red Sea (effect of the Aurora Borealis)

Ronde de pochards dans le brouillard
Dance of drunks in the fog
(Slang for “drunk” in French is gris, which also means “gray”)

Première communion de jeunes filles chlorotiques par un temps de neige
First communion of anaemic young girls in snowy weather

Marche funèbre, composée pour les funérailles d’un grand homme sourd
Funeral March, composed for the obsequies of a great deaf man

Tolk of the Devil

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I wish someone would translate Lord of the Rings (1954-5) into English. By that I mean (of course) that I wish someone would translate LOTR into good English. I’ve looked at Tolkien’s bad English in “Noise Annoys” and “Science and Sorcery”. Here’s another example:

Pippin declared that Frodo was looking twice the hobbit that he had been.

“Very odd,” said Frodo, tightening his belt, “considering that there is actually a good deal less of me. I hope the thinning process will not go on indefinitely, or I shall become a wraith.”

“Do not speak of such things!” said Strider quickly, and with surprising earnestness. – The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), Chapter 11, “A Knife in the Dark”

Strider should have added: “Or in such a way!” In the second paragraph, Frodo suddenly talks like a Guardian-reader. Why on earth did Tolkien use “thinning process”, “indefinitely” and “actually” amid otherwise good, simple English? Thinning is obviously a “process”, so there’s no need to say it is, and “indefinitely” and “actually” are badly out of a place in a fantasy novel, let alone in dialogue there. “Considering” is less bad, but it should go too. I would improve the paragraph like this:

“Very odd,” said Frodo, tightening his belt, “seeing that there is now a good deal less of me. I hope the thinning will not go on much longer, or I shall become a wraith.”

Now there’s nothing incongruous: the only un-English word is “very”, but that doesn’t seem un-English on the tongue or to the eye. The Guardianese is gone, but it should never have been there in the first place. Tolkien should not have written like that in Lord of the Rings. And not just as a professional scholar of language: simply as a literate Englishman. H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1926) had been in print for twenty-eight years when The Fellowship of the Ring was first published. It’s hard to believe that Tolkien wasn’t familiar with it.

If he wasn’t, that’s a great pity. If he was, the bad prose in LOTR becomes even more inexplicable and unforgiveable. Alas for what might have been! Imagine if, per impossibile, Tolkien’s masterwork had been edited by the second-greatest Catholic writer of the twentieth-century, namely, Evelyn Waugh.

When bad prose appears in something by Waugh, it’s deliberate:

I had a fine haul – eleven paintings and fifty odd drawings – and when eventually I exhibited them in London, the art critics, many of whom hitherto had been patronizing in tone as my success invited, acclaimed a new and richer note in my work.

Mr. Ryder [the most respected of them wrote] rises like a fresh young trout to the hypodermic injection of a new culture and discloses a powerful facet in the vista of his potentialities … By focusing the frankly traditional battery of his elegance and erudition on the maelstrom of barbarism, Mr. Ryder has at last found himself.Brideshead Revisited (1945), Book II, “A Twitch Upon the Thread”, ch. 1

Waugh was deliberately mocking the mixed-metaphor-strewn prose and pretensions of modern critics. Waugh paid great attention to language and compared writing to carpentry. It was a craft and good craftsmen do not work carelessly or use bad materials. Nothing in Brideshead is careless or casual, as we can see when the narrator, Charles Ryder, first meets the “devilish” æsthete Anthony Blanche, who has “studied Black Art at Cefalù” with Aleister Crowley and is “a byword of iniquity from Cherwell Edge to Somerville”. Blanche has a stutter and Waugh uses the stutter to underline his iniquity. Or so I would claim. Here is Blanche engaging in some papyrocentric performativity:

After luncheon he stood on the balcony with a megaphone which had appeared surprisingly among the bric-à-brac of Sebastian’s room, and in languishing, sobbing tones recited passages from The Waste Land to the sweatered and muffled throng that was on its way to the river.

“’I, Tiresias, have foresuffered all,’” he sobbed to them from the Venetian arches –
“Enacted on this same d-divan or b-bed,
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the l-l-lowest of the dead….”

And then, stepping lightly into the room, “How I have surprised them! All b-boatmen are Grace Darlings to me.” Brideshead Revisited, Book I, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 1

Talking about the Greek sage Tiresias, who experienced life as both a man and a woman, Anthony Blanche, a man whose surname is the feminine form of the French adjective blanc, meaning “white”, stumbles over the initial consonants of three words: “divan”, “bed” and “lowest”. Is it a coincidence that the same consonants, in the same order, appear in the Greek diabolos, meaning “devil”?

I don’t think so. If Blanche had stuttered on “surprised” too, I would be even more certain. But the –s isn’t essential. After all, it was lost as diabolos journeyed from Greek to Latin, from Latin to French, and from French to English, where it appears as “Devil”. And what does Charles Ryder later call Anthony Blanche after Blanche has spent an evening tête-à-tête trying to turn Ryder against Ryder’s great friend Sebastian Flyte? You can find out here, as Ryder discusses the evening with Sebastian:

“I just wanted to find out how much truth there was in what Anthony said last night.”

“I shouldn’t think a word. That’s his great charm.”

“You may think it charming. I think it’s devilish. Do you know he spent the whole of yesterday evening trying to turn me against you, and almost succeeded?”

“Did he? How silly. Aloysius wouldn’t approve of that at all, would you, you pompous old bear?” – Brideshead Revisited, Book I, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 2

Blanche is “devilish” and his reputation for “iniquity” is well-deserved. That’s why I think the three words over which Blanche stutters were carefully chosen by Waugh from The Waste Land. Waugh was a logophile and that is exactly the kind of linguistic game that logophiles like to play.

Prose Shows

I don’t know about you, but this is exactly what I like to see in the opening paragraph of an essay engaging issues around William S. Burroughs and the cult of rock’n’roll dot dot dot…

Naked Lunch is inseparable from its author William S. Burroughs, which tends to happen with certain major works. The book may be the only Burroughs title many literature buffs can name. In terms of name recognition, Naked Lunch is a bit like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which also arrived in 1959. Radical for its time, Kind of Blue now sounds quaint, though it is undeniably a masterwork. — William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ’n’ Roll, Casey Rae

Did you spot it? Didja?

Previously pre-posted:

The Hum of Heresy
The Conqueror Term
Bill Self

Mullennial Mysterium

Mull (island) Arg. Malaios c. 150. Pre-Celtic island name. (The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names)

Elsewhere other-engageable:

Place of Glades — a review of The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names, A.D. Mills (1991)