From The Derbyshire Email Bag: Scarves, Saxes, Poems, Pushkin, And Pop
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Just a few.

(1) I opened my January Diary with instructions on the right way to tie a scarf. Several readers grumbled that they'd tried my method, but their scarves weren't long enough. The solution is obvious: buy a longer scarf. Just be careful when you go a-motoring.

This reader email was my favorite, though:

Mr. Derbyshire: I agree with 99.9% of what you say, but this scarf thing is a rare example of when I do not. Scarves should not be worn by American men, they are effeminate. I've noticed an increase in their use over the past few years, and every time I see one I cringe. Scarves did not win the Revolution, the Cold War, or get us to the Moon. My suspicion has been it is some sort of Islam meets Euro Soy influence that must be avoided. Please refrain and wear only a sensible regimental or school tie unless you are starring in a Dickens play.

That's a fine spirited bit of Americana, but the England of my childhood had a different opinion. I wore scarves from infancy. So did all the adults around me, including grizzled veterans of the two World Wars. None of them had heard of soy; and if they'd encountered any Muslims, it was on the Grand Trunk Road or in the deserts of North Africa.

So I don't buy the Islam/Euro-Soy hypothesis. This is just one of those inexplicable transatlantic differences of opinion, like putting your comma inside/outside the closing quotation mark, or thinking that peanut butter with jam─sorry: "jelly"─is delicious/disgusting.  

(2) A Radio Derb listener:

Derb: I write regarding your clumsy nomenclature "Anglo-Saxon-Celt." With both Angles and Saxons being Germanic peoples, surely that renders a certain redundancy to "Anglo-Saxon," I propose "Anglo-Celt" in its stead, thus saving an all-important syllable.

Hey, I'm all for syllabic conservation. That's why I write "black" instead of "African American"─that, and the fact that the latter is absurdly pompous and condescending.

I'd be careful not to diss the Saxons, though. "Their name is derived from the seax, a distinct knife popularly used by the tribe," it says here. I'm guessing they didn't use that knife just for peeling fruit back in a.d. 100 when the legions encountered them.

(3) When I was a guest on Richard Spencer's vlog the other day, Richard got a viewer request for me to recite a Chinese poem. Put on the spot, I did my best with a rendering of a classic poem that's the approximate Chinese equivalent of Wordsworth's Daffodils.  (In literary standing, I mean, not subject matter.) I mumbled considerably over the translation, though. A viewer wanted to know where he could find a clearer or more poetic translation. Glad to oblige.

(4) In the same general zone: I mentioned in my January Diary the late Boris Zeldovich's diplomatic reluctance to pass comment on my pronunciation of Pushkin's Russian.

A Russian reader has filled the gap.

Mr. Derbyshire: If I may be so bold as to pass a judgement, you did fairly well. You seemed to struggle with your щ's and ы's (which is to be expected) and your reasons for pronouncing shlezy instead of slezy and poluproznachnaya instead of poluprozrachnaya are a bit of a mystery to me, but otherwise it was a solid performance, considering you are a non-native speaker. You emphasized proper syllables in every word and your intonation and rhythm were generally on point. It was not perfect, but definitely not bad.,204,203,200_.jpgHey, I'll take "not bad." I did a short course in Russian back in my college days for strictly utilitarian purposes: Math undergraduates were supposed to be able to read math papers in the language. Thank goodness, I never had to.

I kept my 1962 edition of Dimitri Obolensky's Penguin Book of Russian Verse, though; and when I cross paths with a Russian I get him to sound out one of the poems for me to practice.

Even at my dismal level of acquaintance, Russian is a wonderfully expressive language, made for poetry. Mandelstam said it's only in Russia that poetry is really respected: "It gets people killed." Sure enough, it got Mandelstam himself killed.   

(5) Pop numbers with titles in Latin

Dear John: "Cristo Redentor" was composed by Duke Pearson and made famous by [blues musician] Charlie Musselwhite on his debut album Stand Back. It was also covered by [guitarist] Harvey Mandel on his 1968 first album release in 1968. [Listen here.]

Is this pop? Well it wasn't popular other than among the cognoscenti. Certainly it is a lot more interesting and listenable than a lot of the other music from that era, though. Or this one.

The wonderful Mr. Mandel is still active today, despite the usual struggles with age [Live performance here.]

Thank you, Sir. Listenable, definitely.

Go easy on those references to "struggles with age," though. Harvey's just twelve weeks older than me.  I can't speak for him, but personally I found youth more of a struggle.

(6) Following my recommendation in the February 1st Radio Derb that you not learn to code, several listeners wanted to know my own coding history. What languages did I code in?

That's a long and tangled tale. I shall try to untangle it for my February Diary.


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