Photo by Alistair Gentry.
I particularly love the German and Japanese languages, although obviously they’re not much alike. The Germans string together long fusillades of smaller words to target concepts that most people recognise but don’t necessarily have a name for in their own language. One of my favourites– both as a word and actually experiencing it because evidently I’m kind of a prick sometimes– is schadenfreude, the pleasure one feels at somebody else’s misfortune. Another great one is Backpfeifengesicht, a face in need of a punch or slap. It literally means something like “cheek-pipe-face” but I have no idea what that derives from or alludes to.
What I’d really like to draw your attention to, though, is the Japanese word bakataa (バカッター). It’s a pun on the word baka (バカ / 馬鹿, stupid or idiot) and Twitter. A bakataa is a person who writes something grossly stupid / illegal / offensive / provocative on Twitter, or does something stupid / illegal / offensive / provocative in real life then documents it on Twitter… and is somehow surprised to find that it backfires on them and causes real world repercussions. I suppose you could translate it literally (and clumsily) as “stupid-ter”, or more idiomatically as something like “twatter” to preserve the pun. But as in the case of schadenfreude, translation is mostly beside the point. Hardly a week seems to go by without at least one bakataa poking their baka head above the parapet to be shot off somewhere in the online world, so let’s just say arigato gozaimasu to whichever Japanese genius came up with a word for these people.
PS: Although it’s not German or Japanese I can’t pass up this opportunity to share the wonderful (and also social network-relevant) imagery of the Dutch mierenneuker, a petty “ant-fucker” who creates a huge fuss about trivial matters or rules.
Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) by Henri Rousseau, 1891. National Gallery, London.
A gravestone in the churchyard of Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire records what is apparently the first documented incident of a person in Britain meeting their end after being attacked by a tiger.
IN MEMORY OF HANNAH TWYNNOY
Who died October 23rd 1703
Aged 33 Years
In bloom of Life
She’s snatched from hence
She had no room
To make defence
For Tyger fierce
Took Life away
And here she lies in a bed of Clay
Until the Resurrection Day.
A plaque at nearby Hullavington (since lost… the plaque, I mean, not the village) recorded that Hannah was a barmaid who enjoyed tormenting the tiger in a travelling menagerie. Almost inevitably, Hannah didn’t enjoy her sport for very long before the tiger decided to teach her a fatal lesson. Presumably the lesson here was also deemed appropriate for local churchgoers, hence the plaque.
Hannah Twynnoy being “the first” obviously implies that other people have been killed by tigers in Britain since 1703, but I bet you don’t know how hard it is to find out exactly who those people were. Nor does there seem to be anybody keeping track of tiger deaths in Britain. Come on, this is important.
I’m reminded of a great little book from the late 1960s or early 1970s: A Small Book of Grave Humour, by Fritz Spiegl. As the title suggests, it collects epitaphs that are either deliberate attempts at black comedy or inadvertently funny because they’re so absurd. One from Gorgie Cemetery in Edinburgh is unforgettable because it’s hard to tell whether it’s meant to be funny or just turned out that way by mistake, thanks to incredibly bad syntax:
Erected to the memory of
Drowned in the Water of Leith,
By a few affectionate friends.
Photomontage by Alistair Gentry, 2011.
I’m writing a book set in the Nineteenth century, so I’m delving into lots of obscure stuff while researching it. Not that I don’t read obscure (and frankly sometimes stupid and ridiculous) books under normal circumstances, but sometimes a man in my current position just has to avoid actually writing anything because he’s wasting a lot of time finding out what those excessively huge candelabra in the middle of an upper class dinner table were called… it’s an epergne, by the way. You’re welcome.
And so at last to the point, via the houses: in Folkloristics: An Introduction (a textbook published by Indiana University Press, written by Robert A. Georges and Michael Owen Jones) the authors quote in turn Stith Thompson’s The Types of the Folk-Tale (2nd revision, Helsinki 1961) and provide a seemingly complete but not really complete taxonomy of traditional story categories. Now you know that when I say obscure I mean it.
I’m interested in taxonomies, whether they’re sensible and help our understanding of things, or completely nuts and actually make matters more confusing. I think the following list lies somewhere between the two in some kind of quasi-academic, Borgesian territory; that’s why I liked it. It starts sensibly and logically (“Fish”), veers off into the insanely specific (“Stupid Ogre”), then just gives up and shrugs with “2400-2499 Unclassified Tales.”
I note also that “Numskull Stories” is probably more of a thriving sub-genre than it’s ever been thanks to the proliferation of the media, paparazzi, scumbag phone-tapping so-called journalists, and the internet in general. What are Hello! magazine, tabloid gotchas and sites like Gawker or FAIL Tumblrs if not an endless torrent of Numskull Stories? In the case of Hello! and its ilk, however, the new and distinctively 21st century development is that we’re presumably meant to approve of the numskulls and aspire towards being numskulls ourselves… as many people quite evidently do. Continue Reading
I know it’s perverse, but occasionally I enjoy perusing all the spam comments that get caught in the filter. I also like the fact that the previous sentence sounds quite repulsive, akin to a sentence such as: “occasionally I like to eat all the dead insects stuck in the radiator of my car.”
Nowadays, many of these spam comments seem to be playing upon the inherent vanity and egotism of bloggers by sending generically positive words of encouragement that just happen to have spammy links attached to them. Here are some of my favourites.
“Normally I do not read article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do so! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, very nice article.”
“Hi, after reading this awesome paragraph i am as well happy to share my experience here with friends.”
“Hi there, just turned into alert.”
“It’s fantastic. grow lethargic this a bitter pill (for someone) to swallow Can better? ;)”
NOTES: I wish I could think of a scenario in which I could announce bombastically “you, sir/madam, have very forced me to try and do so!” although I fear this is dangerously close to one of Catherine Tate’s catchphrases. Since I wouldn’t be caught dead watching one of Tate’s TV shows- I mean, life’s too short, isn’t it?- perhaps somebody can tell me if I’m wrong.
Because of the random capitalisation I’m choosing to imagine that the fourth comment refers to swallowing the Krautrock band of the 1970s. At least our spammer got it’s (abbreviation of “it is”) versus its (possessive) correct, something that many legit bloggers and commenters aren’t capable of.