Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

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The end of posts as you know it

stand byIf you are seeing this page, this blog has run out of scheduled posts. Most likely, some kind of technical problem like my ISP’s apparent hatred of me is to blame and I’ll resume posting as usual as soon as I can get the damn router lights to all be green and stop their infernal blinking or not blinking, as the case may be.

In the meantime, click here for a random post and maybe read something you’ve not come across before. Alternately, just type a weird word into the search bar and something will probably come up since I like odd things. If you’re crazy lazy (no judgment, I’m wicked slothful), check out a Housekeeping post. They’re generally short, have lots of fun links and give you a good idea of other Internet time-suck-holes you can go down.

September 2014 — You’re seeing this message because I was right thinking that blogging was taking a lot of my time. I will be back as soon as I can figure out a way to cut other time-consuming nonsense.


My current English language pet peeves

Most of my experience with English these days comes from the Internet, either written or podcast. This means that I’m exposed to the same relatively limited sources repeatedly, with little variation. It also means that when any of these couple dozen people have an oral or written tic that annoys me, I can’t escape it. Here are some which are bothering me these days:

Bringing up something you’re not ready to discuss

I find this both slightly passive-aggressive and distracting narratively. On one podcast, the host frequently says, “We’ll get to there.” If the point’s been raised, seems to me that you’re already there, so you should just address it.

On a website that I’ve stopped reading precisely because of this, several reviews feature phrases like “More on that later.” Well, why’d you mention it now? If your sentence / paragraph / thesis isn’t structured in such a way as to allow for the discussion of this point, re-work it or address your concern later in a way that flows naturally.

Explicate and unpack

I’ve really gotten to hate both of these terms. To my recollection, they came into vogue around the time of INCEPTION. The film has a nested narrative structure (stories within stories) and in order to discuss the plot(s), most of my podcasts started using these terms.

My dictionary defines explicate as, “1. analyze and develop (an idea or principle) in detail. 2. analyze (a literary work) in order to reveal its meaning.” Unpack’s third definition is “analyze (something) into its component elements.”

I’m not against either idea, though I am biased against any unpacking that doesn’t involve boxes or suitcases, but it seems like people latched on to both words and won’t let go. Not every episode of TV needs to be “unpacked.” How ’bout you just discuss the story and how it was constructed? Not everything is a riddle or a matryoshka. You don’t need to “unpack [your] feelings” about a fictional entertainment. I don’t want to hear about your baggage, just tell me your reaction. Leave the packing to professionals.

Continued misuse of there / their / they’re and it’s /its

"Shortcomings" you say?

“Shortcomings” you say?

Look, we all make mistakes, me included. But I don’t work for a website / news organization which employs editors. (I know many online content editors aren’t paid, but that’s not an excuse for not doing the job correctly.) One of the most basic reasons to have someone look over your work before you send it / publish it / print it is because someone without a relationship to the text can see it in a fresh light. These things should not be happening with the frequency I see. It’s just not acceptable.

As an aside, none of my Spanish ESL students had issues with mixing these up, even the kids. Because they’d learned the grammar (and had a good teacher), they were never confused (beyond the spelling of “their” which is weird-looking).

Finally, if these two puppets can figure it out, adults who only speak English should be able to grasp the concepts too.


Last Tuesday was something called National Grammar Day. Since I don’t live in the US, I can claim both ignorance and my usual I-schedule-a-week-in-advance excuse as reasons why I didn’t commemorate it here. There were some pretty great appreciations for clear and concise communication on the web, but I’m only going to share two.

The first is opening lines from novels, diagrammed, just like you had to in school.

The second is a post called “How the Grinch Stole Grammar!” Here’s an excerpt:

He hated a lot! As he harshly explained:
“In matters linguistic, you’re hopelessly trained.
Allow me to show you some AWFUL mistakes
That I fear almost every last one of you makes!
Each time you use ‘they’ to refer to one person
Your standards of speech irreversibly worsen
And when you pair ‘none’ not with ‘is’ but with ‘are’
You inflict upon English a hideous scar.
Whenever you make an infinitive split
You make yourself look a definitive twit!
One common misdeed that extremely disturbs
Is when verbs become nouns or when nouns become verbs.
Another thing – which, I assure you, is banned –
Is when you begin a new sentence with ‘and’!
What’s worse, without showing a speck of contrition,
You’ll end the next one with a foul PREPOSITION!
‘Between you and I’,
‘Different than’,
Even ‘ain’t’
Are giving your language a horrible taint.
I could go on all day, listing errors syntactical
But there are so many… it wouldn’t be practical.”

For the record

I’m no longer so prescriptive that I object to ending sentences with prepositions. For that matter, in informal writing, like this here blog, I also don’t see a problem with beginning a sentence with either “and” or “but.”

Just for the hell of it

This pisses me off too

Thanks for pissing me off, Slate. Won’t be reading you again.

Leave a comment

My complaint department

Even though I have a way more relaxed take on life than I used to, some things still piss me off. A lot. Enough to make me yell at inanimate objects and grind my teeth. Here are some of the recent offenders.

→ Apple. I don’t think I could count how many ways Apple has pissed me off in the last decade. The first one was when they changed the keyboard of the original clamshell iBook to one that was less responsive and comfortable for the second-gen G3 iBooks. More recently was when they updated iTunes, completely overriding years’ (YEARS’!!) of metadata and preference settings that I had already rebuilt twice in the last half decade. And, of course, there’s iOS7 which is a total nightmare.

SOLUTION: All this anger has led me to imagine a perfect machine which is basically a typewriter with a better keyboard and an email client. That’s it. No crazy apps that have dynamic swiping or tweetdecks or constant alerts or other unnecessary crap. Someone please make this happen.

These are just a few of the idiots in question.

These are just a few of the idiots in question.

→ Flies. I supercrazydoublehate flies, not just because they’re dirty (which they 100% are) but because they are insanely stupid. When confronted with a wall of windows, they bounce and bump along one section, not bothering to use the hairs that cover their whole bodies to feel where the breeze is coming from and going towards the most logical point of egress. Also, they love to swarm in cool spaces just out of direct sunlight, meaning there’s always a big gang of them right by the main entrance to my building and in my living room if I leave the windows open.

SOLUTION: I bought fly tape but then they just got stuck and buzzed and buzzed until they died which was equally annoying to them just existing. Second attempt at eliminating them was this amazing Raid product that you stick on windows and, through some kind of sorcery (or possibly nuclear radiation), it absolutely positively kills all the flies in the area so that there is actually a pile of dead flies on the floor when you come home after a few hours. It’s the best thing I’ve come across in ages.

→ Don’t complain to me: I used to be a shift manager at a video store in college* and one of my great pleasures was addressing surly customers. Usually, they’d come in and start complaining about late fees and they’d demand to see the manager and I’d sigh and turn around and come right back to them and say, “Hhhhello, my name is Hhhhh______. I’m the manager hhhhere. Hhhhhow can I hhhhhelp you?” At this point the customer would usually wither and die because I had used my secret weapon: fricative sounds (all those H‘s) combined with a garlic bagel with garlic cream cheese which I would have consumed earlier in my shift. No one could withstand my cool detachment and killer breath.

Go out on some notes

Lykke Li’s “Complaint Department”

*Possibly the best job in the world, RIP the entire industry.


Things I Did While I Didn’t Have Internet

→ Tried to remember the Greek alphabet. I got 15 out of 24 letters which is pretty good, especially considering that I never actually studied Greek. (It ain’t Latin.) Easily ten of them came to me by thinking of fraternities and sororities in teen comedies. Despite their poor academic standing, those Deltas taught me something after all!

→ Got a haircut. ‘Cause, you know, another year had gone by. (I think I need to schedule them in my calendar, ’cause I clearly need reminding.)

→ Started re-reading the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, (from which HBO’s GAME OF THRONES is adapted). I’ve gotten through 3949 of 4931 pages. There are so many hidden clues to stuff and connections to be made once you know where the story’s going. It’s even better than the first time!

→ Watched all the special features and audio commentaries on the first two seasons of GAME OF THRONES.

→ Re-watched THE SOCIAL NETWORK and then watched all the special features on the DVD (but not the two audio tracks because I can only take so much). David Fincher is one of my favorite directors.

→ LESSON: Physical media is still the best. I likely would have gone insane without actual things to keep me busy.

le guide vélo→ Pulled my bike out of deep storage and tuned it up following the advice in an awesome book I have, Le guide d’entretien de mon vélo by Peter Drinkell. I now know more words for bike parts in French than in English.

→ Got off my ass and actually rode the damn thing. It was awesome. The weather’s been ideal for biking, in the high 60s, low 70s.

→ Had my first dépannage and was able to fix it on the fly ’cause I’d read my book! Now I know to pull back on the galets by the rear cassette to put the chaîne back on the plateau! Tour de France, here I come!

→ [Cassette is the gears which explains where cassette tapes got their name. BOOM! Learning!]

→ Caught up on a podcast backlog of several months, clearing my external iTunes drive of weeks’ worth of audio. Of course, I’ll have over a month of episodes to listen to as soon as I’ve downloaded all the ones I missed, so this is kind of a wash.

→ Put all my summer shoes away in their original boxes and put those boxes in one big box labeled SHOES from which I pulled my fall shoes. There are few things I love more than fitting smaller boxes into bigger boxes, Tetris-style.

→ And, of course, I missed all you Internet people. Since I had visitors fairly constantly from July through the time my Internet connection crapped out, I’ll have to read what you’ve all been up to. I think I need a vacation just to get caught up on everything again!


And we’re back!

The red light means I'm in HELL.

The red light means I’m in HELL.

It turns out that even the Internet takes August off in France. (Actually, a Norwegian pickpocket is to blame for my off-the-grid status, but the story’s almost too silly to be believed, so I won’t go into it now.)

My connection cut out on the 7th and didn’t return until this weekend, making this past month one of the least pleasant (and most annoying) of my life.

But now I’m back and will resume posting as usual. Come back to this space tomorrow for… something that’ll hopefully amuse you.

Also, because I really am playing every SNL sketch ever broadcast in my head at all times, I must link to the one about the dueling morning DJs (transcript) who yell “And we’re baaaaaaack!” louder and louder and in increasingly more annoying ways.