Cooking and conic sections

I’ve had this tab open for ages because I meant to blog about the story. So here we are. I don’t remember now how I got there. xykademiqz? Rachel Neumeier? Or maybe some other writer’s/writing blog. Anyway, I enjoyed it. It was oddly prescient for 2015. Sad in places but hopeful, as well.

At the fora-formerly-known-as-Chron, people are posting about an essay in the New Yorker on the decline of the English major. I no longer subscribe (after 30 years!), but read part of the piece at a site that pirated it. (In a month I’ll be able to get the whole thing via the LRU library site, if I really want to.) Various lines struck me as badly written, not up to what I think of the NYer’s standard, and then I hit the phrase “upside-down parabola.”

A parabola describes a conic section. It’s a type of curve. It doesn’t have an inherent direction (up, down, left, right, whatever).

I infer that the math major is also declining.

Wait till next year

It is not really the end of a decade. Start counting at 1, not at zero. You knew I’d be pedantic like that.

Day 12 of steady research/writing, still working on the long-overdue R&R, but I now have 1600 words in the new and improved version, so I’m at least 1/4 of the way there. I gave up on the document that has all-caps notes to myself saying things like “ADD PARAGRAPH ON ANGLO NORMAN SOURCE HERE” and just started over, although of course I can transfer large hunks of material from that document into the new one. It’s easier to think on a blank page, and faster to just do it my way than try to argue myself into doing it some other way.

I hope to keep the chain going. However, Queen Joan and I are off tomorrow on one of our royal progresses to warmer climes, so we’ll see. I also have class plans to work on. I hear vacations are lovely, but I’m fine with working in a more exotic setting. It is a great pleasure to noodle around with something interesting on my laptop while looking out at blue seas and tropical birds, rather than staring out at snow and bare branches. So I look forward to putting in an hour or two every morning before we go out sight-seeing, then come back to work on a jigsaw puzzle.

We know how to have fun! Tonight we’ll be turning in around 8:00 because of an 0-dark-thirty departure tomorrow morning. Woot! So Happy New Year now! Enjoy the Eve, and happy writing (and other pursuits) in 2020: finish off the decade with a bang!


Memoria, in Latin, is feminine. It declines as follows:

Singular nominative (subject case): memoria                    plural: memoriae

Singular genitive (possessive): memoriae                           plural: memoriarum

Singular dative (indirect object): memoriae                       plural: memoriis

Singular accusative (direct object): memoriam                  plural: memorias

Singular ablative (object of prepositions such as with, by, from): memoriā          plural: memoriis

Thus, in the well-known phrase in memoriam, you need an a, not a u. There is no such word as *memorius in Latin. If you can’t get your genders and cases right, stick to plain English: in memory of, or just in memory if you aren’t going to add a person’s name, is clear and elegant.

In memoriAm.

It’s not an epiphany

(And if it is, ur doin it rong.)

This article really pissed me off. “[M]enopause delivers a mind-blowing mid-life recalibration – one with a valuable message of growth and expansion.” Uh, what? My mind is still here, unblown. Life trundles along the way it has for years. Maybe it’s being a professor: growth and expansion come with the territory. New students, new ideas, new courses (or new ways of doing the old ones), new research.

“[F]emale bodies are powerful intuitive barometers and mine was trying to tell me something.” Probably every body is a powerful intuitive barometer, whatever its sex. I count on mine to tell me when I’m hungry, thirsty, sleepy, and so on.

“I routinely put others first which meant racing through my life over-achieving and under-prioritising me. Exhausted and running on empty, letting go of my expectations of me would be the first positive move.” Okay, now you’re finally getting to your problems. Don’t suggest that those are everyone’s problems. (And by the way: dangling modifier. That irritates me, too.) You could have set a higher priority on yourself at any point, however; there’s nothing magical about menopause. Maybe that’s what got your attention, but in someone else’s life, it might have been a parent’s death or a child’s starting school, a change of jobs or a milestone birthday. I think Franklin’s realizations are not uncommon in midlife, actually, but the menopause thing is coincidental. I know women who went through menopause very early due to medical treatments or just because it happens early in their families, and they pretty much carried on as usual until their fifties, when the reality that life is short became more than just a phrase to follow with “so eat dessert first” or “don’t drink bad wine.” Men do this too. What do you think the sports cars are about?

“In menopause our body roars. All these years it has put up and shut up and now will not tolerate abuse or disrespect any longer. This commotion is simply a demand by your newly awake self for quality not quantity, for re-evaluation and re-balancing. Perhaps (when your time comes) you plan to put your hands over your ears? Think again, there is nothing so primal and immediate as your body’s hormonal call to action.” Our body? Speak for yourself. You have yours, I have mine. I wouldn’t say that mine put up and shut up. It has made its needs clear for decades. I treat it kindly. My self is as awake (or maybe not-awake) as it has been for years. I can’t say that I’m experiencing a hormonal call to action. Hot flashes, yes, but they don’t move me to much action beyond reaching for an ice pack. I always thought I’d enjoy getting up to room temperature, that it would make a pleasant change from being freezing most of the time. The problem isn’t the hot, it’s the flash, the sensation of being suddenly dumped into a sauna. I do not experience them as power surges, just as a passing nuisance. They definitely do not roar.

“Post-menopause needs renaming and reclaiming for what it truly is, a magnificent time of curiosity, creativity and rank. It’s not surprising that some societies have been threatened by this natural female evolution to leader and mentor. In Pagan times of Goddess Worship, female tribal elders were respected and celebrated but with the introduction of Christianity came the brutal persecution of middle-aged women as witches and heretics. As feminist history explains, older women were simply channeling their menopausal force to intervene in an oppressive culture that undermined female wisdom and equality.” Gag me. Where to start? Is there seriously any historical evidence for a pagan feminist paradise before the coming of Christianity? I used to have this argument with my mother, who blamed Christianity for everything that afflicted women (in her later years; when I was little, she was as conventional as they come: we both wore white gloves to church). In the medieval and early modern periods, an appalling number of women died before they made it to menopause. I can hardly bear to tour medieval churches any longer, despite the lovely architecture, because of all the plaques and gravestones from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, memorializing women who died in their thirties after bearing nine, or eleven, children, more than half of whom preceded them to the grave. Such a waste. At least Catholicism offered the option of the nunnery, where a woman could have some sort of intellectual life, and not have to go through childbirth.

Probably I’m simply the wrong audience for this sort of essay. I never went for the Powerful Female Experience rhetoric, whether it was attached to menstruation, childbirth, menopause, or any other natural process. There are lots of bodily processes that we could bond over. Some are universal human experiences, shared with men, and even with other animals. How come we never talk about the profound experience of digestion, and how at one with the universe we feel when we are replete after a good meal, or about the pleasures of relieving a full bladder, or making one’s mark on the world by taking a dump? Oh, wait, those aren’t mystical; they have nothing to do with the process of bringing another life into the world, which is the real power of women. Of course. And that must mean that I, as a childless-by-choice woman, am not a real woman. Never mind my double-x chromosomes, my years of living in a female body with (almost) all that that implies, my experiences with sexism overt and covert. I’m not sure that I’m even allowed a powerful menopause, in this model: if I haven’t sacrificed myself to others, if I haven’t given birth and suffered sleep deprivation while looking after a newborn and exhausted myself raising children while having a career, then probably what I’m going through isn’t really the hormonal wake-up call that Ms Franklin is on about.

OK, then, fine, never mind. Nonetheless, I think it’s sad if you haven’t managed to put yourself first before your mid-fifties. I thought that was an affliction of my mother’s generation, not of my own. I have a variety of friends (women and men) who have children. A few inhabit the martyr role. Most of them think about their own needs as well as those of their children. The second set are happier. How’s that for a powerful human experience?

“Happiness exists, and it’s important; why refuse it? You don’t make other people’s unhappiness any worse by accepting it; it even helps you to fight for them.”




I got a letter from the president of LRU about football tickets. It started, “As a valuable member of the university, I am inviting you . . . ”

Well, there are two opinions about whether the prez is a valuable member of LRU or not. But at least s/he doesn’t suffer from low-self-esteem brought on by being at a regional school instead of a flagship.

As you might expect

I shall tactfully refrain from naming the author or title of the book (published by a highly reputed university press) in which I found the following sentence:

“One might argue that romances, like novellas, were the kind of prose fiction that was closest in interest and narrative type to romances.”

One might argue that; but why would one bother? It’s tautological.

Maybe one or more adjectives is missing, or something else went wrong in the editing process. In the context of the paragraph, it seems like a different kind of statement is needed at this point. I can imagine highlighting and moving the wrong chunk of text.

Note to self as well as others: this is why actual proof-reading by human eyes (and, preferably, voice) is necessary. Do not rely on electronic checkers of spelling and grammar.

And, that said . . .

I can see the use of Twitter as a way to get a quick answer to the question “Who is ‘the historian of late-medieval Coventry’ whom Keith Wrightson quotes directly on p. 56 of Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain? Direct quote. No notes. Yale UP, and no notes. Just a sort of bibliographic essay about the major sources for each chapter. This is not what I would call a popular book. Maybe if I were an early-modern economic historian, a name would come immediately to mind. But sometimes people whose expertise lies elsewhere need to get some information about another field.

Here endeth today’s rant.

Pedantic PSA

It’s that time in the semester: other people’s errors annoy me more than usual.  A reminder:

Flour does not fluoresce.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Possessive mnemonic

It’s very simple.

It’s simple, he’s simple, she’s simple: subjects plus the verb “is” drop the “i” and add an apostrophe. He’s, she’s, it’s.

But his simplicity is his, and hers belongs to her, and its simplicity belongs to it. His, hers, its.

This Public Service Announcement brought to you by your friendly neighborhood pedant.

Still a pedant

Well, yes, I do have ideas for more interesting posts, but no time to write them.

But listen: “moreso” is not a word. It’s a mistake. You may have picked it up from your students, but that doesn’t make it correct.

Stick with “more.” “Moreso” makes you sound stupid, and using “I” after a preposition or as the object of a verb, even more so.

I mean, really, when I want a break from grading I’d like not to keep reading the same damned mistakes on the blogs of other college professors. What are they teaching people in graduate school these days, anyway?