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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Archive for the 'Hess' Category

Turn, turn, turn

August 1st, 2011

BY JOEL HESS

In honor of this issue about turning points, let us consider the development of how we English speakers express the idea of motion around an axis.

We have a plethora of words for this concept, fine-tuned according to the specifics of the turning: around a vertical axis (spin, wind) or a horizontal one (roll, tumble); involving an axis within the turning body (twirl, rotate) or extraneous to it (revolve, orbit); with a circular motion (whirl) or a spiral one (coil, spiral) or a back-and-forth one (rock, sway); with a quick motion (swirl, eddy) or a slow one (meander); with a graceful motion (pirouette) or a maladroit one (pitch, lurch). A mere glance at some of the multifarious terms we can select from indicates just how ingrained and basic a movement it is: pivot, ring, gyrate, encircle, loop, surround, gird, circumnavigate, swivel, twist, curl, curve, arc, swing, wheel, pendulum, screw, corkscrew, swerve, veer, flip, reel, spool, scroll.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Turning Points Issue, Hess | Link to this Entry

Fun with math

October 1st, 2010

BY JOEL HESS

I just play all the time and am fortunate enough to get paid for it.
— Martin Gardner, 1998

Although this column is primarily concerned with language and linguistics, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the passing in May of one of the heroes of my youth, the inestimable Martin Gardner.

Gardner, born in Tulsa in 1914, never took a math course beyond high school, where he struggled with calculus. Even though at first he considered himself poor at mathematical puzzles, and majored not in mathematics but in philosophy at the University of Chicago, he ended up almost single-handedly reviving interest in recreational mathematics in the United States, first through his editorship of the children’s magazine Humpty Dumpty, where his innovative stories, puzzles and games in the 1950s inspired multitudes of wide-eyed kids, and later through his column entitled “Mathematical Games” in Scientific American from 1956 to 1981, and in a series of books based on those columns, in which he entertainingly delved into such mathematical curiosities as flexagons, game theory, tangrams, Penrose tiling, polyominoes, fractals, the board games Nim, Hex, and Mill, the artwork of M.C. Escher, Turing machines, hypercubes, Möbius strips, and much more. He even touched on recreational linguistics through his explorations of codes and ciphers.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Hess | Link to this Entry

Skoal!

November 1st, 2006

BY JOEL HESS

To grasp the importance of intoxicating agents to our culture, one need only turn to the word “drunk” in the thesaurus, where you will be greeted by a large variety of alternatives: inebriated, bombed, plastered, schnozzled, tipsy, crocked, snockered, in one’s cups, smashed, fried, shitfaced, three sheets to the wind, crocked, stewed, half in joeldandy.jpgthe bag, besotted, sloshed, toasted, polluted, pickled, lit up, stewed, and dozens of others. Alcoholic beverages exist in virtually every society, and here in America we are lucky — or cursed? — to have access to the full spectrum.

That our Anglo-Saxon forebears fully appreciated their happy hours is evident in such words as “beer,” “ale” (Old English ealu), “mead” (from meodu, “honey”), “stout” (in the sense of “bold,” as in “stout-hearted men”), and “wine,” related to such Indo-European cousins as Latin vinum (source of “vine”) and Greek oínos (whence “oenolog”).

England, though, early on began importing from its closest neighbors, and so today we enjoy whiskey (Irish usquebaugh, “water of life”), brandy (Dutch brandewijn, “burnt wine”), and, more generically, booze (Dutch bousen, “to drink to excess”).

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Smoking & Drinking Issue, Hess | Link to this Entry

Island America

March 1st, 2006

BY JOEL HESS

I wonder how many of the contributors to this month’s All-Television Issue of Black Lamb will write about the immense inanity of American TV, or mention Newt Minow’s oft-repeated quotation about television’s being a vast wasteland. In the forty-some years since the former FCC chairman made that astute observation, the landscape has only grown vaster, what with three new broadcast networks and hundreds of cable choices, and more barren. I am not about to enumerate americatv.jpgthe myriad ways this is so — most of Black Lamb’s readers, simply by nature of your being readers, are surely painfully aware of the dilemma, and one need only briefly consider Paris Hilton to confirm it. (I am convinced, incidentally, that Paris is the Zsa Zsa Gabor of this decade: a talentless blonde bimbo who is famous for being famous. At least Zsa Zsa was amusing on talk shows.) But there is one aspect of this question I would like to bring up, since it indicates to me a serious fault with American society. And, frankly, it drives me to distraction, especially since returning recently from Europe.

Spend twenty-four hours sometime viewing American TV. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, or what part of the country, or what channel(s) you choose. Notice anything? It’s likely that in those twenty-four hours you will not see a single second about anything outside the U.S.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Television Issue, Hess | Link to this Entry

A straits Christmas

December 1st, 2004

BY JOEL HESS

I experienced my finest and most traditional Christmas ever in, of all places, Singapore.

As a Jewish kid growing up in an Irish and Italian Catholic neighborhood, I had decidedly mixed feelings about Christmas. On the one hand, the season would find everyone on the block in a charitable mood, which was a pleasant change of pace, since I was an odd duck among my peers, and their normal attitude towards me was at best to ignore me and at worst to be outright hostile. But to a Jewish kid in a Christian environment, Christmas mainly means deprivation. All around you are lovely decorations and jolly carols and glowing faces and breathless anticipation, and finally, on the big day, cool presents and a fancy dinner and a break from the tired old routine. What do we get? A distinctly minor holiday in which the biggest excitement is spinning a top. Just doesn’t compare. So I pretty much always avoided Christmas.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Hess | Link to this Entry

One balmy night

September 1st, 2003

BY JOEL HESS

The Towering Inferno changed my life. No, really.

Not that it was a particularly spectacular flick. It was entertaining, certainly, but no one would place it on any list of the greatest movies of all time. Even as an example of the disaster movie genre, it’s probably not much more than mediocre. (My vote for the best movie of that ilk goes to 1936’s San Francisco; drawn into the story and the characters’ relationships, you forget that it’s a disaster movie until almost the end, when the earthquake finally hits with sudden, startling fury. Who needs state-of-the-art special effects?)

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Movie Issue, Hess | Link to this Entry

A story of language

June 1st, 2003

towerofbabelBY JOEL HESS

One of my fondest childhood memories is the every-Sunday excursion with my father to the Cobbs Creek branch of the Philadelphia Public Library. Dad was an appliance salesman for a small independent store, these days a vanished institution done in by suburban malls and national chains. His job required him to work miserably long hours, and well into my childhood he would arrive home only shortly before my bedtime. Sunday was the only day I got to spend any real time with him, so I especially cherished our weekly library ritual.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Book Issue, Books and Authors, Hess | Link to this Entry

Author profile

December 1st, 2002

Joel Hess is an amateur logophile and dilettante writer currently living in Portland, Ore. He grew up in a working-class family in the Philadelphia suburbs; went to school at Washington University in St. Louis, majoring in Chinese, including one year on a year-abroad program in Singapore; returned to Philadelphia; and made his home in New York for a decade before deciding to move to the west coast. His various residences, along with extensive travel to forty-four states and twenty-five foreign countries over the course of his lifetime, and formal study of a dozen or so foreign languages to various extents, have supplemented his insatiable thirst for knowledge about the world’s languages to produce a solid foundation for writing about language and linguistics. His other major interest is in music, in which he has a degree (B.Mus. in music history) from Temple University. As a singer and violinist, he has performed with dozens of ensembles on three continents. He lives alone, alas, but if you know of any available gentlemen, he would be glad of an introduction. His Black Lamb column is called Glossolalia.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Hess | Link to this Entry

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