A little technology, a little politics, a lot of language:
When I started receiving blog traffic from this MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) post about SQM, I got curious. SQM is internal code for the Microsoft Customer Experience Improvement Program; it's pronounced "squim," which is how the Washington State town of Sequim is pronounced. (That qualifies Sequim as a shibboleth: a pronunciation that distinguishes locals from outsiders.) SQM used to stand for Service Quality Monitoring and now stands for Software Quality Metrics (yeah, yeah, whatever), but the more interesting thing about the acronym is its migration into verb-land. So: Is it more proper to write "We SQMmed this data," "We SQM'd this data," or "We SQM-ed" this data? Commenters naturally took sides, and one of them, Jolyon Smith, kindly linked to an old post of mine about apostrophe'd adjectives.
More from the computer archives: Ironic Sans (real name David Friedman, yet we're not related; I'm related to another David Friedman) unearths the user manual for the Franklin Ace 100, circa 1983. One chapter was titled "The Ancestral Territorial Imperatives of the Trumpeter Swan." Explanation: "It's real title should be 'Let's Get Started,' but that's such a disgustingly cute phrase that it has no business adorning any page." Yep, they don't make computer manuals like they used to.
In the National Review, linguist John McWhorter analyzes Sarah Palin's idiosyncratic speech habits, in particular her use of that and there ("distal demonstratives," in linguistics jargon):
What truly distinguishes Palin’s speech is its utter subjectivity: that is, she speaks very much from the inside of her head, as someone watching the issues from a considerable distance.
[T]here's another set of reasons for using that and there — not to signal distance from the referent, but to establish fellowship with the audience.
I've been thinking about New Orleans lately because I'm looking forward to Sunday's premiere of "Treme," the new HBO series from the creators of "The Wire," which was the best television I've ever watched. ("Treme," by the way, is another shibboleth: it's prounced "treh-MAY," even though it lacks an acute accent.) I've also been reading Zeitoun, Dave Eggers's nonfiction account of one family's experience during and after Hurricane Katrina. The title character, a Syrian-American married to a Louisiana native, remained in New Orleans after the levees broke. I followed the Katrina news voraciously as it unfolded four and a half years ago, but Eggers's book reveals horrors I'd never heard or imagined. I admit I found his authorial voice a little too ingenuous at first, as though he were writing for an audience of 12-year-olds—so many flat, declarative sentences; so many homely details—but halfway through I understood why he'd made those choices. I forgot my objections and surrendered to the story.
Politics figures only obliquely in Zeitoun, but of course the whole Katrina catastrophe was largely political in nature. This week, in a stunning display of hubris or obliviousness (probably both), the Southern Republican Leadership Conference is meeting in New Orleans. "But do they have any idea where they are?" asks John McQuaid in True/Slant:
Just up the street from the GOP’s venue at the Hilton Riverside is the New Orleans Convention Center, where tens of thousands of people gathered in the days after Hurricane Katrina and waited in stifling heat without food or water for rescuers who didn’t know they were there. Even though they were on TV.
That was probably the low point in a catastrophic breakdown of government capacities at all levels – local, state, and federal. But the biggest single failure was at the top: George W. Bush was the one man who would have cut through it all. But he was oddly disengaged for the balance of that terrible week.
Nevertheless, former GOP congressman J.C. Watts received a standing ovation when he told the gathering on Wednesday that "history's going to be kind to George W. Bush."