Thursday, June 16, 2016

And "grating" spelled backwards is "gnitarg."


   
I was driving back from Des Plaines, having purchased my first assault rifle (more about that in the Sun-Times on Friday) when I heard the general manager of Six Flags Great America talking about their new roller coaster feature: virtual reality goggles on their popular 20-story, 73 mph Raging Bull. In talking about the experience, he used the term "twists and turns." I had to smile. The virtual technology might be new, but that particular word pairing, "twists and turns" is no less than 2500 years old, featured in one of the most famous opening sentences in literature, the first line of The Odyssey, here as translated by Robert Fagles:
    "Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns..."
     Homer isn't suggesting that his hero, Odysseus is jarring around curves and dips like someone a roller coaster, though there is plenty of that in the story, particularly in the cave of Polyphemus, the cyclops.
     But rather that Odysseus is clever, complicated, a man of genius and ideas, complexities and stratagems. I was pleased to hear it on the radio, even though I strongly doubt it was a conscious homage. Unintended though it was, it was nice to hear the classical allusion.
     Otherwise, language is often mangled. Look at this line of natural frozen goods, I noticed a few days ago at Marianno's. You might think you're looking at a reversed photo, but the stuff is "elov," the brainchild of a Boulder, Colorado frozen foods company. The word is "love" spelled backward, of course, with all the groaning half-wittery of backwards spelled words, a realm of half-cleverness somewhere below puns and above farting sounds. What's the least clever thing in Harry Potter? "The Mirror of Erised" ("desire" spelled backward!) I tried to think of this kind of backward spelling that wasn't lame and the best I could do is "redrum" in The Shining and even that is a little iffy.
     (A different story are words and sentences that are spelled the same forward and backward, such as found in Carol Weston's recent series of young adult novels. Palindromes can be fun, and, I should point out, include today's date: 6-16-16).
     Back to "Evol," It not only seems a typo of "evolve" but also hints at "evil" which the company cheerfully admits, with all kinds of puns. Its slogan is the nearly Orwellian "Good is evol" and staffers with black t-shirts reading "evol minion."
     Lest we judge the company too harshly, a few cases away was this product, the even-more grating "udi's," also lowercase. It seems e.e. cummings is running marketing in the frozen food industry.
      That screams for explanation. Udi Baron is an Israeli baker who moved to Colorado, started a sandwich cart (two Colorado companies, in a store in Northbrook; for a moment I thought I was transported to King Soopers) got into gluten-free baking, and sold his brand to Boulder Brands for $125 million in 2012. So clearly, I am not the judge of these things.
     That reminds me. When I first heard of the Harry Potter books, I shook my head at the name of the school. "Hogwarts?!? Really?" That'll go over well....
     Turns out, you get used to it.

11 comments:

  1. What made The Shining's "redrum" so effectively scary was the moment Shelley Duvall spied it scrawled on the mirror, reflecting the word "murder". It gave me a jolt, for sure.

    Spelling words backwards can be fun for a while, but it soon loses its charm. I used to cringe whenever the late, great Harry Carey would try to pronounce the players' names backwards.

    SandyK

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    1. I used to cringe whenever the late, great Harry Caray opened his mouth. Why that guy was considered so delightful I'll never know.

      Bitter Scribe

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    2. @Bitter -- Harry was a very respected broadcaster in his days with the Cardinals, but he was also a man of excesses. What I'm most grateful for is his ability to connect with the fans; he alone was largely responsible for what turned Chicago into a Cubs town; I brought my son to the games as a child and his favorite part was Harry singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for the 7th inning stretch.

      SandyK

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  2. You do mean, of course, "The Odyssey," not "The Iliad." Sometimes even mighty Steinberg nods. Or is it "sdon?"

    Tom Evans

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    1. Yes, fixed. Of course I had "The Odyssey' in my hands when I made the blunder, confirming the line. To write is to err. (Or should that be, "Too right is to air"?)

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    2. Shelley wrote "The morning newspaper is sometimes old, but Homer is always new." The Fitzgerald translation is less poetic but more plainspoken and clear: "Sing, in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending." If you're into audio-books, a recently issued one has both poems beautifully read by Dan Stevens, the actor who was Lady Mary's first, automotively terminated, love.

      TE

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  3. Palindromes are indeed fun. If you're ever in a Greek Orthodox church with a separate niche for the baptismal font, look for an inscription overhead. The Greek words translate as "Wash not only your hands but your soul," and yes, the letters run the same forward and backward. (One of the few things I remember from Sunday school.)

    Companies that spell their name in all lowercase letters are as annoying as the ones that insist on all caps, without actually being an acronym. Hey, GET OVER YOURSELVES.

    Bitter Scribe

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    1. Clark: tronc is just the latest in a long, dreary line.

      And FWIW, I don't think the lowercase spelling is even the most annoying thing about tronc. Their mission statement, a bunch of strung-together digital-age buzzwords that I don't feel like looking up, is one more nail in journalism's coffin.

      Bitter Scribe

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  4. The most famous palindromic literary title is probably Samuel Butler's 1872 dystopian satire "Erewhon," which isn't quite, but was intended to be "Nowhere" spelled backward. It is a book I enjoyed when young and sometimes think of revisiting. It influenced, among others, George Orwell.

    TE

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  5. Since I discovered that my wife's name without capitals is an "ambigram," I've had fun looking for other examples. "swims" is one, "mow" another. My wife's name is "unsun." Some people, tattooists mainly, distort the words to make them read the same upside down -- I consider that cheating. A medical chair labeled "75L" works for me, however.

    john

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