O frabjous day! I’ve got sprouts on my windowsill

Because harbingers of spring seem like the most Wonderful Thing to share these days, allow me to present the first shoots of my nascent 2021 garden.Kale and Collard sprouts grown in peat pucks in disposable aluminum muffin tin

I feel like the preening mother of debutantes. Stand up straight, my darlings! Never fear; the one in the front on the left is tall and proud now.

I’m not really much of a gardener, so my delight is no doubt outsized. Add my family to the ranks of pandemic plant-tenders, motivated by grocery deficits in 2020 to expand from a handful of pots to a balcony-full. My pride in such a minuscule accomplishment certainly feels weightier than four spindly seedlings gracing a disposable aluminum muffin tin full of peat pellets.

Here’s a close up of my first born sprout. Though I do feel a bit guilty contributing yet more photos of kale to the internet. At least it isn’t on a plate…

Kale sprout one inch tall

I’m particularly happy that these seeds germinated since they were left over from DH’s burst of gardening enthusiasm at the beginning of the pandemic last year. The little beauty above could be any of four types included in Burpee’s Kale Blend, though, statistically, I suppose she’s most likely to be Dwarf Blue Curled Vates.

Lest any hapless would-be gardener look to me for inspiration, be aware that I took the earliest possible seed starting dates for my zip code from an online calculator offered by A Way to Garden. Being a true nerd, I also added a sheet to record my seed starting results to the Excel spreadsheet* where I track my annual purchases of plant and seed varietals.

Early planting reflects both my enthusiasm to welcome the coming season in a year where indoor socializing has been so sharply curtailed, and also the high probability that I will kill some of these poor plants and need one or more subsequent sowing to end up with any healthy seedlings to transplant by the time our last frost actually passes.

Open Burpee Kale Blend seed packed with 2020 scrawled on it

Kale and collards both—according to my online sources—are better sown outdoors directly and left to grow in peace. I started a few anyway. The seeds were here and I was curious to know if they were still viable. At a cost of less than 4 ¢ apiece, this form of experimentation is cheap.

Also, I’m itching for spring, so why not engage in anticipatory activity? Heaven forbid my idle hand become the devil’s workshop!Popular origin of saying about idle hands and the devilNot strictly Biblical, this phrase comes to us mostly thanks to Chaucer and Saint Jerome. See line 1595 of the former’s “The Tale of Melibee.”

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
   Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
   He chortled in his joy.

And in another utterly non sequitur-ious aside, how does anyone else feel about the fact that the Merriam-Webster dictionary offers a definition for frabjous, but the next two exclamations from the poem—callooh and callay—don’t merit inclusion?

My understanding is that Lewis Carroll coined frabjous in Jabberwocky, and a quick internet browse and articles like this one seems to support that supposition.Merriam-Webster screen shot states callay is not found

My question for the rest of you is: Do you ever describe a thing as frabjous,” or, like me, do you mostly quote the entire line from the poem if using the term?

Literary diversions aside, new life merits the frabjous, a callooh, and a callay, in my opinion. How can one help but marvel at the super powers contained in a single tiny seed? Thank heavens for the wisdom of nature, because sometimes it’s sufficient to keep even me from wreaking havoc on my best efforts at nurturing vegetables.

Don’t tell me there are people who can pull off cultivation of more than a few vegetables, herbs, and flowers without benefit of software-enhanced data analysis!

But, of course, I’m well aware that my habitual tendency to gather and play with data is anomalous. I doubt I’m the *only* one with spreadsheets for her wardrobe, recording drive times for various routes to frequent destinations, and prices by source for the family’s usual grocery purchases, but I suspect that there aren’t too many of us who dwell more easily in the realm of information vs. the actual world.

I geek, therefore I am.

Best internet error message ever: close this page and re-launch it from whence you came

In recent weeks, I helped one of my children apply to a competitive program at a local school.

Having gotten distracted from the open application page while it was in progress, I returned to my desk to what is now my favorite internet error message ever yet received. How often do we enjoy those, really?

And here it is, lest you appreciate it as much I do:

Your session has been lost error message, including advice to "re-launch it from whence you came"

Close this page and re-launch it from whence you came,” they advise.

Close this page and re-launch it from whence you came

Yes, that’ll do, pig.* That’ll do.

I try to hold back some of the force of my tidal waves of opinion from my dear children, attempting to allow them the latitude to be whomever they wish, and offering them the reins of their own educations whenever I can get them to take them. Boy oh boy, however, am I tickled pink by this turn of phrase.

I wouldn’t quite urge my kid to enroll in a program he wasn’t keen on because of it, but… Let’s just say I’m sorely tempted.

The pickiest grammarians amongst us will now argue about the redundancy of “from whence;” the preposition is actually implied by the whence itself, of course. I count myself amongst those who hold, though, that, if Shakespeare used it, it can’t be too offensive to the English language as a tool of self-expression. Continue reading

Language learning gets silly: Duolingo and a love of mayo

I’ve read on the internet that some people think the worst part of Duolingo is its silly sentences.

Really? Wirklich?

Silly sentences are my very favorite part!

Screen shot of DuoLingo lesson about love and mayoA recent example?

Ich liebe dich nicht, ich liebe nur Mayo.

If you guessed that this sentence means:

I don’t love you, I only love mayonnaise,”

you would be correct.

Now the question becomes, do you love this sentence, or do you hate it?

It’s okay by me if you love this sentence and you love mayonnaise. This is a place for Really Wonderful Things, not judgement, at least so far as condiment choices go. Just don’t expect me to join you in tasting spicy hot sauces.

Condiment bottles: ketchup, mayo, mustard, harissaAt least one language learning blog complains that nonsense sentences do budding polyglots great harm. No one needs this sentence! Why study this?

And yet, for me, the process of practicing vocabulary can get a little dull. By the third repetition of the same phrase, I start to act out, if only in my mind.

Okay: more often than not, I act out outside of my mind, and by proclaiming dull stuff in loud, silly voices from my desk. My kids just adore this behavior while undertaking distance learning, as you can imagine…

Music iPod headphonesI suppose that there are dutiful users of Pimsleur and other audio language study programs who slog cheerlessly through the spaced repetition of those early, monotonous phrases.

My name is X.

I am from Y.

What is your name?

Do you come from Y?

I speak Z.

Do you speak Z?

For me, this inevitably leads to acting out these phrases in the most extreme accents and postures I can manage whilst attempting to approximate the correct “target” foreign accent in a Monty-Python-esque masquerade.

When I’m laughing, I’m learning. Rote repetition turns into a bit of fun. If I’m internalizing the correct grammatical construct, does it matter if my sample sentence borders on insanity? I expect there are lunatic speakers of every living language.

Duolingo loves to talk about ducks and what they do. It’s quirky, but I think it is actually one of the better aspects of the program. The weirder the sentence, the more attention I end up paying to an otherwise predictable practice question. Contrary to what the critics suggest, I can see differences between how the platform presents unique languages that reflect each diverse culture.

I have less loving things to say about the evolving intrusiveness of ads in the ecosystem. Duolingo is far from perfect, but very much worth its price: free.

With a little sprinkle of silly spice, Duolingo has recently kept me committed to a 58 day streak where I’m practicing two to four languages every day. There are worse ways to season one’s studies!

My level varies between 1 and 3 between each of the languages I study on Duolingo, so I’ve seen more than just the most basic introductory lessons for at least German and Spanish.

I would advise, however, that beginning a completely new language on Duolingo seems unlikely to be satisfying or particularly effective, especially where a new alphabet is required. I’ve had classroom exposure to both Russian and Hebrew, but my alphabetic weakness renders the lessons too hard on the mobile platform where you get five strikes (lose 5 ♥) and you’re cut off for the rest of the day. I only study non-Roman-alphabetized languages on my desktop computer with Duolingo for that reason: you don’t run out of hearts on the desktop! Even French stymies me in writing; silent letters are my kryptonite. Sigh.

What can one foment if not rebellion?

Can one foment anything besides rebellion?

Catalan flag in the region of Spain around BarcelonaSeriously, I have to ask. I struggle to think of any other object commonly used with this transitive verb. Merriam-Webster gives some examples about fomenting a riot or some violence, but I have my doubts that many of us would come to that alternate combination naturally.

Have you ever heard foment used with an object besides rebellion?

What could I foment today?

I do feel inspired to rile up a fomented espresso drink now that I’ve gone on about this for the past few minutes. Punk rock coffee beverages, maybe? Maybe I’m on to the next big thing.Espresso drink, fancy coffee, with leaf latte art

Foment comes to us from the Latin fovēre, to heat, so I think my notion is apt. I love this verb, and not just because I’m an idealist with a rebellious spirit though my public behaviour tends more toward the polite.

The way that “foment” sounds rather like “ferment” no doubt informs my food-related choice of object. Would you propose another?

Just enough German to be paranoid: hören vs. gehören

Sometimes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I’ve “been studyingGerman for over 20 years!

But, of course, that misleading statement represents one academic year of university courses in the language, then a decade’s gap, and eventually picking it up again as an autodidactic hobby when one of my kids started to study German in school.

Ich verstehe nur ein biβchen Deutsch.I don’t know where I stand as far as the state sanctioned “level” of my ability to understand the language, but I am almost finished with the Pimsleur Level II audio course.

PimsleurI think my official designation is probably something like “rank amateur,” or “what’s lower than A1?”

Case in point: I was researching a future trip and using the Wiener Linien website to download a PDF map of the public transit system. I found this tag line printed on the bottom of each map:

Die Stadt gehört Dir.

Die Stadt gehoert DirThis gave me pause. The more learned amongst you can chuckle knowledgeably while reading through my thought processes in the rest of this post.

I’m quite clear on what “Die Stadt” means. Die Stadt*is “the city.”

FlashSticks German deployed1

Die Lego Stadt, or Lego City

“Dir” is the second person informalpronoun for “you.” It’s used when the word “you” is the indirect object in a sentence.

I frequently make mistakes about when to use the accusative and dative cases as I create (i.e., speak) my own sentences, but I always know who we’re taking about when I hear du, dich, or dir.

German pronounsIt was the verb that confused my weak grasp of the German language.

I know the verb hören pretty well. It means “to hear.”

verb conjugation hoeren

Naturally, I leapt to the conclusion that the Vienna transit authority was telling me:

The city hears you.

Or, giving it a creepier meaning, because I’m a bit paranoid:

The city is listening to you.

Even that might be a well-intentioned statement. My son also misread the sentencemaking the same mistake that I did. He thought Wiener Linien was indicating a customer service orientation with the same language I associated with eavesdropping.

Perhaps I’m the only one whose thoughts turn immediately to Big Brother in 1984 and “his” perpetual observation of the hapless citizens in that dystopian classic?

Google translateMy friend, Google translate, taught me the error of my ways. In fact, Wiener Linien would like me to know that:

The city belongs to you.

That’s so much better, right? Especially if I’m just visiting as a tourist. I mean, how generous, but, really, Vienna, you needn’t go to so much trouble!…

The verb that is actually being used in this sentence is gehören. I should probably learn it. “To belong to [someone]” is an incredibly helpful thing to be able to say when traveling.

I recognize that I am easily tricked by German verbs that begin, in the present tense, with “ge-“ because of how the past perfect (Perfekt) tense is formed. I.e., usually, by adding “ge—” and doing some other stuff to the end based upon rules I’ve read but not memorized.

Please consult someone who actually knows German instead of trying to learn any grammar specifics here. Otherwise, you, too, could frighten yourself as to the actually well meaning intentions of public transit authorities in German speaking countries.

A little knowledge clearly is a dangerous thing. Which somehow forces me to conclude with “the rest is commentarynow go study!

*Stadt being a false friend for the English word “state,” but clearly a related word in the sense of historical precedents such as the Greek “city-state” concept.

My apologies to Maimonides.