Why do all thesauri seem to suck?

When I’m using a thesaurus, it generally is not because I want to find, as a synonym for “sad,” a word like “gloomy” or “unhappy.” It’s because I’m looking for something like “lugubrious.”

Show me a thesaurus that will give me synonyms like “mendicant,” “tarradiddle,” “recrudescence,” “bowdlerize,” or “sigil,” and I will be happy convivial. Continue reading “Why do all thesauri seem to suck?”

Unabomber weighs in on ancient Egyptian dwarf-worship

Letter to the Editor, New York Review of Books, Vol. 52, No. 12, July 2005

In “Survival of the Smallest” {NYR, March 10], István Deák writes on page 22: “In ancient Egypt, dwarfs were often venerated like gods.” Deák here is discussing pathological dwarfs. However, Paul Schebesta, Die Bambuti-Pygmäen vom Ituri (Brussels: Institut Royal Colonial Belge, 1938, Vol. 1, pp. 5–11), argues persuasively that the “god-dancers” venerated by the ancient Egyptians were not pathological dwarfs at all, but pygmies from the African rain forest. Schebesta cites, inter alia, a letter of the pharaoh Pepi II or Phiops II (Sixth Dynasty) which seems clearly to support this view.

Theodore John Kaczynski
Florence, Colorado

Goethe-recognition FAIL

Goethe in same room as unaware Hölderlin; hilarity ensues

I’ve already been at Schiller’s too, once or twice, the first time not altogether successfully. I went in, was greeted warmly, and barely noticed at the back of the room a stranger whose appearance, and what little he said at first, did nothing to suggest anything special about him. Schiller told him my name, and told me his too but I didn’t catch it. Coldly, almost without looking at him, I greeted him and was totally taken up, inwardly and outwardly, with Schiller. For a long time the stranger didn’t speak a word. Schiller brought in the Thalia, which contains a fragment of my Hyperion and my poem to Fate, and handed it to me. As Schiller then left us for a moment the stranger took the ioumal from the table, flicked through the fragment as I stood beside him, and didn’t say a word. I felt myself getting gradually redder and redder. Had I known what I know now, I’d have gone white as a sheet. He then turned to me, enquired after Frau von Kalb, the area and the neighbours round our village, and I answered all this in monosyllables, in a way I think I rarely do. But luck was simply against me. Schiller came back, we talked about the Weimar theatre, the stranger let fall a few words weighty enough to make me suspect something. But I suspected nothing. The artist Meyer from Weimar also joined us. The stranger conversed with him on various subjects. But I suspected nothing. I left, and learnt the same evening in the Professors’ Club (have you guessed?) that Goethe had been at Schiller’s that day. Heaven help me to make good my misfortune and my stupid behaviour when I get to Weimar. Later on I had supper at Schiller’s – he comforted me as much as he could, and with his wit and his conversation, which revealed the full force of his extraordinary mind, made me forget the disaster that had befallen me on the first occasion. I am also at Niethammer’s occasionally. I’ll tell you more of ]ena next time. Make sure you write soon too, dear Neuffer.

Yours, Hölderlin (letter to Christian Neuffer, 1794)

Chekov on Nihilism

Excerpt from a letter, 1892.

Letter to A. S. Souvorin, November 25, 1892

“Science and technical knowledge are now experiencing great days, but for our brotherhood the time are dull, stale and frivolous, we ourselves are stall and dreary… Our illness is a lack of something, that is the rights of the case, and it means that when you lift the hem of our Muse’s gown you will behold an empty void… Now what about us? Yes, us! We paint life such as it is—that’s all, there isn’t any more… Beat us up, if you like, but that’s as far as we’ll go. We have neither immediate nor distant aims, and you can rattle around in our souls. We have no politics, we don’t believe in God, we aren’t afraid of ghosts, and personally I don’t even fear death or blindness. He who doesn’t desire anything, doesn’t hope for anything and isn’t afraid of anything cannot be an artist… I am not to blame for my disease, and it is not for me to cure myself, as I have to assume this illness has good aims which are obscure to us and not inflicted without good reason.”