Cool Stuff from Recent Reading (and movie watching)

  • from Roughing It, by Mark Twain

His one striking peculiarity was his Partingtonian fashion of loving and using big words for their own sakes, and independent of any bearing they  might have upon the thought he was purposing to convey. He always let his ponderous syllables fall with an easy unconsciousness that left them wholly without offensiveness. In truth his air was so natural and so simple that one was always catching himself accepting his stately sentences as meaning something, when they really meant nothing in the world. If a word was long and grand and resonant, that was sufficient to win the old mans’ love, and he would drop that word into the most out-of-the way place in a sentence or subject, and be as pleased with it as if it were perfectly luminous with meaning.

  • from The Old Ways, by Robert Macfarlane

To the Klinchon people of north-western Canada, walking and knowing are barely divisible activities: their term for “knowledge” and their term for “footprint” can be used interchangeably.

The relationship between thinking and walking is also grained deep into language history, illuminated by perhaps the most wonderful etymology I know. The trail begins with our verb “to learn,” meaning “to acquire knowledge.” Moving backwards in language time, we reach the Old English “leornian,” “to get knowledge, to be cultivated.” From “leornian” the path leads further back, into the fricative thickets of Proto-Germanic, and to the word “liznojan,” which has a base sense of “to follow or to find a track” (from the Proto-Indo-European prefix “leis-” meaning “track”). “To learn” therefore means at root — to follow a track. Who knew? Not I, and I am grateful to the etymologist-explorers who uncovered those lost trails connecting ‘learning’ with path-following.

In its original verb-form, the Arabic “sarha” meant “to let the cattle out to pasture early in the morning, allowing them to wander and graze freely.” It was subsequently humanized to suggest the action of a walker who went roaming without constraint of fixed plan. One might think the English equivalent to be a ‘stroll,” an “amble” or a “ramble,” but these words don’t quite catch the implications of escape, delight and improvisation that are carried by sarha. “Wander” comes close, with its word-shadow of ‘wonder,” as does the Scots word “stravaig,” meaning to ramble without set goals or destination, but best of all perhaps is “saunter,” from the French “sans terre,” which is a contraction of “a la sainte terre,” meaning “to the sacred place;” i.e. “a walking pilgrimage.” Saunter and sarha both have surface connotations of aimlessness, and smuggled connotations of the spiritual.

There is a Spanish saying, “caminar es atesorar!“: “To walk is to gather treasure!”

  • from the movie Mystery Men

We’ve got a blind date with destiny … and it looks like she’s ordered the lobster. (The Shoveller)

  • from The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, by William Manchester

He [Churchill] called Attlee “a sheep in sheep’s clothing” and “a modest man with much to be modest about.”

Studies at the University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota have found that teachers smile on children with high IQs and frown upon those with creative minds. Intelligent but uncreative students accept conformity, never rebel, and complete their assignments with dispatch and to perfection. The creative child, on the other hand, is manipulative, imaginative and intuitive. He is likely to harass the teacher. He is regarded as wild, naughty, silly, undependable, lacking in seriousness or even promise. His behavior is distracting; he doesn’t seem to be trying; he give unique answers to banal questions, touching off laughter among the other children … 70 percent of pupils rated high in creativity were rejected by teachers picking a special class for the intellectually gifted.

  • from the TV show Seinfeld

You just can’t help some people until they’ve hit rock bottom, and by then you’ve lost interest.

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