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Perhaps even odder than the “a” or “an” situations I went on about the other day is the case of publishers such as NYRB, who, as my wife points out, refer to themselves both ways. On the back cover of their books New York Review Books talk about an NYRB book, while if they were to spell out their name it would be a New York Review Book. Trolling through the alphabet one finds in addition to N publishers the following indefinite indefinite article afflicted publishers: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, Harvard University Press, Liverpool University Press, Melbourne University Press, Random House (now protected by their acquisition of a leading Penguin), and Sussex Academic Press all forced to deal with such a dual indefinite article existence. I wonder if it’s a blessing or a curse? Probably a good thing on balance, as it must make you think every time.

Referring to yourself by initials only is a particularly university press sort of thing to do. We even resorted to initials for addressing our colleagues. I have to be addressed as RJH to get me started working in the morning. So I have to apologize for not listing the many other university presses lining up behind the initial letters, F, H, L, M, N, R, and S. Of course some of these may prefer not to refer to themselves by initials. I don’t know if Fordham University ever talk about an FUP book. I know I always feel a slight shock when Columbia University Press refer to themselves as CUP. After all, CUP used to be an RJH/a Richard H. employer, and I never worked for Columbia.

This one just looks plain wrong to me. Though it sounds pretty awkward with an “a” too. Perhaps homage is a word to avoid? Tribute might upset me less.

Of course it all depends on how you pronounce the word: “a” if the “h” is sounded as a consonant, “an” if the “h” is silent and the word sounds like it’s started with a vowel. I suppose there may be people who pronounce the word as ‘omage — they’re probably the same ones who stay in ‘otels. In another corner of the linguistic world I guess one would say “Lend us an ‘and”.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme provide a transatlantic break point just like tomayto, tomahto. They are herbs to me, while to all around me they are merely ‘erbs. That always sounds to me like a Cockney telling me to “Lend ‘Erb an ‘and”. D. H. Lawrence was not David Erbert Lawrence, though, come to think of it, who knows how his family would refer to him. That most fondly remembered of schoolteachers, H. H. Mills, was a Bertie, but you knew that those two “H”s would always be sounded. Australian miler extraordinaire Herb Elliott was no shrinking ‘Erb. (My mother, whose mother was a Border Eliot, would always tell me that Herb’s surname should really be spelled with only two consonants — though if you felt the need, for whatever crazy reason, it was acceptable to double either of the consonants, but never both. I bet we’d have welcomed Herb at any clan reunion though.)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary homage/’omage is another of those UK/US differences, so as Mr Spinnen’s book was published by David R. Godine of Boston, MA, I suppose I have to withdraw my objection. Never heard of an American paying ‘omage though. I guess it’s not a word that comes up too often. The country was kind of founded to get away from this sort of thing. Just yesterday I did at last hear an American on the radio mentioning homage in connection with some sports personality, and he did indeed say ‘omage. This doesn’t alter my objection to the oddness, ugliness of the word whichever way you jump.

I wonder if there’s something in all this about our relative closeness to/respect for France. The word does sounds better in French, un homage actually sounds quite worth having. I assume this French connection is the origin of the American pronunciation of the word. This is however a little surprising: the break usually seems to go the other way. What we in America call an eggplant is a British aubergine, which of course is no more than a French import. In America we eat zucchini (when we can’t avoid it). In Britain this becomes a courgette. The Brits seem hard-wired to pay homage to French cuisine (we don’t even have our own word for that) with courgettes, aubergines, éclairs, bouquet garni, mayonnaise, mache, roquette, not to go as far back as omelets, beef, pork, veal and mutton.

Parenthetically, on the subject of letterspacing, I think I’d prefer to see a little more space between those Os in the title, and a little less between the M and the A in HOMAGE. Might pull in that G too, the A just has too much air around it. Still, David Godine always makes a handsome (or do I mean an ‘andsome) book, and I can’t imagine that the cover designer didn’t consider the options here. If you cut up the letters and try different versions, who knows but that the one they ended up choosing won’t turn out to be the best.

David Crotty’s regular Friday entertainment at The Scholarly Kitchen this week features a video on color terminology in different languages.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to watch it in your browser.

This just screams trouble, but as a protest against the President’s decision not to put Harriet Tubman‘s portrait on the $20 bill after all, Dano Wall has created a 3-D printed stamper so you can update the bills in your wallet all on your own. He plans to make a few more stampers for others to use as well.

Hyperallergic tells the tale. According to adafruit stamping Ms Tubman’s face on your $20 bills should not land you in jail. Burning a bill, flushing it down the toilet, or defacing it “to render it illegible or unrecognizable” would seem to be illegal, but, perhaps because nobody had imagined anyone would do such a thing, overprinting a different portrait seems to slide by.

Well, OK, part of my motivation in starting this blog was to clarify differences between British and American book talk. (I think this got taken care of mainly amongst the earlier posts, though I’m open to queries from puzzled book folk.)

Here’s list from Merriam-Webster of British words not readily understood by Americans. Blimey, are Americans really that gormless? Surely most of these 10 words, and the second list accessed via a link at the bottom, are not utterly opaque to Americans. One might observe that a couple of their explanations are less earthy than they might have been.

Link via Shelf Awareness for Readers.

So common, that granted is what the paperclip inevitably has to be taken for. Whatever others may say, if you have an iPhone you’ll know that paperclips were invented in order to clean the fluff out of the charging port of your phone. Digital demons may be shocked to find out that paperclips are also used for joining sheets of paper together, a task in which they have successfully resisted stout competition from the stapler.

The first patent for a bent wire paper clip was awarded in the United States to Samuel B. Fay, in 1867, though his clip was really intended to fix labels to bits of cloth. This, along with fifty other early designs patented before 1899 is not considered directly ancestral of what it is that now comes into one’s mind when the word paperclip is uttered.

This is the Gem, a design which was in fact never patented. It got its name from The Gem Manufacturing Company in England who first made it. Later Cushman & Denison of 179 Ninth Avenue, New York trademarked the name in USA. Wikipedia tells us that the Swedish word for a paperclip is still “gem”, an assertion backed up by Google Translate.

The website Early Office Museum has an exhaustive account of this surprisingly fecund topic, including a gallery of lots of different types above and beyond the familiar Gem. Many of these will elicit cries of recognition. Disappointingly to me Treasury Tags, remembered from the file folders we used to construct in Cambridge, are not included in the list. No doubt the purist would hold them to represent a whole different category of fasteners.

The seriousness with which paperclip historians approach their work may be seen in this video.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this blog post in order to view it in your browser.

I suppose, now that they don’t expect to print the thing ever again, the size of The Oxford English Dictionary no longer matters. If it’s a word in English, anywhere, let’s just stick it in there. They are now soliciting information about regional word usages. Here’s your chance at immortality by getting official respect for that weird word from your childhood which is always being mocked by your friends.

BookRiot brings the Guardian story. You can submit your words at this link.

This brief post by Daniel Kernell, author of Colours and Colour Vision: An Introductory Survey, at the Cambridge University Press blog Fifteen Eighty Four gives a nice introduction to color vision. As Kernell himself is “color blind” he has a special relationship to his subject. He explains, in so far as this is possible, the differences in color perception between a trichromat and a dichromat. (Link via Publishing Cambridge.)

The mechanics of color vision are pretty well understood: rods and cones, and then neurons sorting it all out in the brain. The hard problem is working out how the neurons arrange for us to “see” the things in our brain. The old idea of perception as some kind of tiny homunculus sitting inside our heads watching a sort of unfolding movie, has obviously got to be nonsense. But coming up with a reasonable alternative is tough, leading philosophers of mind into equally crazy convolutions.

Cutting the Gordian knot, Kevin O’Regan* theorizes that color vision, all vision, results from our interacting with the scene being viewed. We feel the scene’s reality by sampling it: we scrutinize this bit and then that bit. O’Regan compares the process to the way in which your hand recognizes a penknife while it remains invisible in your pocket. It’s a bit like the kid’s game of touch bag where you get to identify objects by feeling them inside a bag. By feeling various bits of an object you are able to reconstruct the idea of the whole. But if the object is just laid on your hand you are unable to tell what it is. Similarly, when we see, we don’t have any sort of photographic representation inside our brain. In fact, the overall clarity of photos misrepresents what we actually see: our eyes are in fact relatively course-grained for most of their coverage. Our belief that what we see is really what we see as a sharp image results not from our having a clear image of the whole, but from our confidence that by moving the focus of  our eyes we can establish the details of any part of the scene. In other words by knowing we can sharpen up any bit of the scene whenever we want, we make the assumption (and adjustment) that every bit of the view is crystal clear, even though brief introspection of the visual evidence of what you are looking at will easily demonstrate that what we are seeing is actually a little central area of clarity surrounded by a large extent of vagueness. O’Regan’s theory takes the task of perception out of the brain and turns it into an interaction between the brain and the object being viewed.

O’Regan’s sensorimotor approach seems to me to get past many of the barriers which have prevented us from coming up with a good theory of vision/perception/consciouness.

* J. Kevin O’Regan: Why Red Doesn’t Sound Like a Bell: Understanding the Feel of Consciousness, 2011

Shelf Awareness shows us this photo from Books A Plenty in Tauranga, New Zealand.

Need one say more? Luckily, not.


The Academy of American Poets has a free program for teachers called “Teach this Poem” which involves sending out a weekly poem with materials to help in class discussion. These often include music extracts or pictures around which discussion can focus. Their efforts have been recognized by The National Book Foundation who have awarded them their annual Innovations in Reading Prize. There are 27,000 teachers subscribed to “Teach this Poem”. Publishing Perspectives sends the news. Previous winners of the Prize have included Barbershop Books.

As an example, this link will take you to the materials they sent out about “Binsey Poplars” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew—
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc únselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.