Monday, July 30, 2012

Polyphony--and dissonance--in church

I love plainsong, but I also love polyphony. In fact, almost any form of choral singing. I attend an Episcopal church in Berkeley (St. Mark's), which has for many years enjoyed a choir of some 50 men and women, and it is excellent. There is a regular churchgoer who clearly has some mental problems, although he is in no way dangerous. He does not seem to understand why we sing and pray in unison. He certainly knows the words--and speaks them loudly. He doesn't wait to join in with others, but rushes ahead, a habit which I find quite bothersome. On the other hand, I realize that church is not confined to those who are mentally and physically healthy. Unfortunately for me, another regular, who often sits in the same pew, and thinks that he is word-perfect with the prayers, has the unfortunate habit of adding additional words that don't belong - usually simple words like "and". I find this almost equally disconcerting, as this fellow parishioner also likes to speak very loudly, so I'm constantly hearing his personal version of standard prayers. Then there is the widow of a male Epicopal priest, a retired MD, who has some form of mild dementia, which from time to manifests itself by her returning from the Communion rail and forgetting where she was sitting. I have limited vision and mobility, but I gladly accept these signs of aging in return for (so far!) "having all my marbles". That's thanks to good genes, not to any virtue on my part. I admit to an unfortunate trait: I do think to myself "There but for the grace of God go I". I hereby confess to a lack of compassionate feeling, alas.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Incredibly unbelievable!

I am dismayed by the current usage of these essentially synonymous words to comment on something that is clearly believable. There are various adequate terms that convey positive surprise, such as "amazing", and a current favorite "awesome". Another word that has come to be interpreted in a very different sense than its original meaning is "fabulous".

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Sine Die"

These words were spoken (in the usual butchered Latin) at the recent conclusion of the 77th triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church. They are normally pronounced by the President of the House of Deputies as "Syney Dye", as "PHoD" (the President of the House of Deputies) adjourns the Convention, and most folk probably think that the words terminate the Convention. Isn't "adjournment" a fancy word for the end of the meeting? Not exactly! Let's first get the pronunciation right. Well, no-one really knows how the Romans pronounced their words. When I was studying Latin, we were informed that there were two main streams of opinion on how to pronounce that language, and we would learn the modern system. Since this was over three-quarters of a century ago, teaching may have changed, but my guess is that the words are probably still pronounced by most Latinists "sinnay dayie". Of one thing you can be certain: "die" is a word of two syllables. ("Dies irae" means "Day of Wrath", and that should confirm the point.) The literal meaning is clear: "without a day". This means that adjournment takes place without a set date for continuation: it doesn't mean termination, although that is normally the reality. In theory, Deputies and Bishops could be recalled, and their work would technically be considered a continuation of the same Convention. "Adjournment" actually implies an interval, usually to a "time certain". The Latin roots of the word imply "to another day". This "teaching moment" is hereby adjourned...

Monday, July 9, 2012


Most males in the USA have a nickname, which they prefer to use in place of their given name. There are several types of these. Many are just abbreviations of standard first names: Arch, Art, Bart, Ben, Cal, Chris, Dave, Don, Doug, Fred, Gil, Jed, Jon, Ken, Les, Lou, Matt, Nick, Pete, Phil, Ray, Rich, Ron, Rob, Sam, Stu, Tim, Vic, Walt, Will, etc. Then there are traditional variants: Chuck, Dick, Hank, Harry, Jake, Jim, Joe, Larry, Mike, Ned, Ray, Rick, Steve, Tom, etc. Sometimes, the initial letter is changed: Bob, Bill, Gene, Tony. Sometimes the full name is uncertain: Al (Alan, Alfred, Albert?), Bert (Albert, Bertram?), Ed (Edward, Edwin, Edgar?), Frank (Francis, Franklin?), Jerry (Gerald, Jerome?), Jack (John, James, Jackson?), Jeff (Jeffery, Jeffrey, Geoffrey?), There are nicknames that ignore the given name: Slim, Kid, Skip. Some names end in -y or -ie: Andy, Archie, Artie, Benny, Bernie, Bertie, Billy, Bobby, Charlie, Connie, Denny, Eddie, Jimmy, Johnnie, Gordy, Huey (or Hughie), Kenny, Marty, Ollie, Randy, Teddy, Tommy, Vinny, Willie, Woody . Sometimes only initials are used: JB, JC, OJ, TJ, Then there are some names which defy abbreviation or other easy choices of nickname: Adam, Brian, Bruce, Byron, Eli, Eric, George, Godfrey, Grant, Hugo, Jeremy, Luke, Mark, Paul, Saul, etc.. Especially in the US, one cannot assume from the nickname that the bearer has the traditional given name: it is a common practice (especially in the South) to make one or two nicknames the given name or names I dislike being called "Nige", but granddaughter Justine is "grandfathered in" to use that . It sure beats "Grampa" . "Granddad" is acceptable! My dear wife has some unprintable names for me, but often I answer to "Jerk".

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


"Philately" is a fancy word for stamp collecting. As a small boy, I noted that King George V was a stamp collector, as was FDR. I began the usual way, with a commercial packet of 500 "Assorted Foreign" stamps, and began to look forward to mail from my uncle, an electrical engineer who designed the original power system at Abadan in what was then Persia, as well as the system in Basra, Iraq. He was for many years employed by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later Anglo-Iranian, predecessor to BP (British Petroleum). My uncle sent many stamps, and I still have a concentration of Iranian stamps from before WWll. Stamp collecting greatly helped my interest in Geography and History, supplementing my studies in those subjects, which formed part of the academic curriculum at my primary and secondary schools. Ideally, stamps should be steamed off envelopes, but I wasn't very successful at that. I learned that one could put the stamps, face up, in a bowl of warm water, and that would loosen the stamps. Next, one put the stamps on a towel to dry. On a few occasions, I would buy some unused stamps, purportedly from some small state, such as Brunei or Nauru, probably printed in the UK and never leaving its shower but for most of my life I have just collected used stamps from anywhere, including those issued while I lived in the UK, and later those (especially "commemoratives") issued by he US Postal Service. For some forty years or longer, I have done nothing except accumulate stamps. The plan was that when I couldn't get around as much, I would attend to my stamp collection. It would give me something to do! (I also had the illusion that at least one of my sons would become a philatelist. It didn't happen.) Well, I no longer get around much, but television and the Internet have come into our lives. I have finally decided to stop collecting stamps, and see if I can sell my albums from pre-war days and my large number of stamps not yet detached from the scrap of envelopes.