From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

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*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Felicitous Felinity—Introduction

One year ago on Round and Square (5 July 2012)—Asian Ethnicities: Introduction
Two years ago on Round and Square (5 July 2011)—Flowers Bloom: Settling In "at" Chicago
[a] Concatenation RF
Welcome to another new series on Round and Square. This one blends two of my most powerful and abiding interests—the richness of the English language...and cats. Yes, many men lack the self-confidence and inner esteem just to admit it, but I wear the appellation "cat guy" with pride. I am quite attached to little felines (and canines, too). Every once in a while, we hear about a "cat guy," which cuts across the meme-ish grain of "cat lady" (which is, in turn, not the same thing as "Cat Woman"). Former Obama administration Interim Chief of Staff Peter Rouse is one, and he is "man enough" (whatever the Hellespont that means) to admit it. There are others, too. It may be difficult for the larger society to accept, but men can love cats. I say so without fear.
[b] Roost RF

You may think that you know where this is going, but you don't...yet. The cats are just part of it.

You see, another passion of mine is the English language. I never tire of its strange concatenation of pronunciations, puns, homophony, metonymy, and synecdoche. Metaphors, too. A Rouse by any other name would (still) have cat hair on his jacket... 

So, now we have cats and the English language. How does that combine to create a blog series? Well, you might have noticed that cat photos and videos are insanely popular on, as a former American chief executive once said, "the internets." This has not gone unnoticed by the Round and Square corporate board, and the pressure from our editors to "popularize" the content has been relentless. They say, " like Kittywood Studios; get to work." Now that's a pretty high bar. Just take a look at cat video creation in process (do note the Onion-like quality of the presentation).
[c] Venery (careful: two meanings and still ambiguous) RF

          Kittywood Studios 

No, really. Click the link. You need to see this. The only part they're missing is abstruse English vocabulary.  

We got we say back home.

So, Round and Square—while maintaining its "integrity" as a source of long, winding, and prolix essays—is going to start showing cat photographs (and maybe a few videos). Since Round and Square is a not-for-profit blog, this cannot quite be considered "cashing in." Still, there is a sort of crass commercialism at work that is only saved by the fact that we will be looking at cat pictures. Even in the most blatant commercialism, there is something ennobling about kittens—it's like avarice...with an asterisk.

So, we are going to combine English words and cat pictures. 

Why would we do that

Well, remember that Round and Square editors like to think about language, and that "we" have readers in 130 countries. Presumably there is something going on with regard to English vocabulary and usage. What "we" want to bring to the fore is a range of words that—while not being in the least grandiloquent or generally overdone—are just outside the comfort range of many native speakers of American English. They hover somewhere between once-a-week vocabulary ("stratify") and the little-used and barely-understood ("staggard").* Neither of these (stratified staggards) will appear in this series.
*Please note that none of the captions will be in the full series that begins tomorrow. I mean (read on) I'm not going to "waste" valuable words on the introduction.
[d] Amity RF

Let me give you an example of that "in-between" vocabulary. The following words—while not exactly used everyday by many writers and speakers of English—are ordinary enough that that are not going to be a part of this series. Words like "adamant," "pensive," "vacillate," "obstinate," and "inexorably" don't make the cut. 

This is not because they are simple, but rather because the point of this series is to hit the sweet spot between this sort of word and almost ridiculous forms of verbal braggadocio. The late William F. Buckley was a highly skilled practitioner of the latter, except for one thing. He was really smart and thought endlessly about his word choices. Reading his books is great vocabulary training if you plan to take standardized tests (or outwit both liberals and your fellow conservatives). Still, you would be far better off reading John McPhee or Ved Mehta (or any of a small handful of academic writers who can actually write well).

No, this series has those upper-level "in-between" words that lie just beyond the grasp of most of us. We have a sense of what they mean, but we don't use them ourselves. Much. Sometimes we are just wrong. We think we know what the word means...and it is just something else altogether. This can be embarrassing, and goes to show that a careful combination of dictionary study and reading (and then speaking and writing) is necessary for achieving real grace and accuracy with a complex language. You don't want to speak of the emperor's cynosure when you really mean concubine or say alliterate when you mean illiterate.
[e] Grapple RF

And you certainly don't want to mix-up irenic with ironic.

So what kinds of words are we going to see? Well, they are in that "sweet spot" of which I spoke. "Obdurate" doesn't make the cut, but "indurate" does. When you see little red dots on your "word processor," you know you are in that liminal linguistic zone. Want another? O.k., "circumcise" comes up short (so to speak), but "circumscribe" just barely makes it in (this might be because T.S. Eliot used it memorably in a poem). 

Get the idea? 

Whether you do (yet) or not, it will be clear enough when the series starts tomorrow. Cat pictures and English vocabulary. It is a combination of cute pictures and words that, while not quite making you a language braggart, will certainly make you more precise and, perhaps, incisive. Moi aussi. We're all larnin' together here.  

That is this series' calling card.

Down the road, we'll add a few twists and turns (dog pictures and maybe a foreign word or two that has become part of the English language). Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. Welcome to the Round and Square series "Felicitous Felinity."
[f] Stare Decesis RF

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