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March 2009 — Monthly Archive

The Perils of Grammatical Gender

Language Log:

At lunch a couple of weeks ago, I asked a bunch of doctoral students and postdocs what the gender of Schorle is. Much inconclusive discussion resulted. For one postdoc they’re both feminine (die Apfelschorle, die Weinschorle); for another, they’re both neuter (das Apfelschorle, das Weinschorle); and still another has die Apfelschorle but das Weinschorle. The German Wikipedia, de.wikipedia.org, says that the term Schorle, in a different formation, dates back to the 18th century, and that the word is feminine, except in southern Germany — where Freiburg is — where occasionally, rarely, it is neuter.

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27 March 2009 7:25 pm

Visions in the Tundra

Michael Lewis has an excellent, long (16 pages) article about Iceland in Vanity Fair — Wall Street on the Tundra (via Paul Kedrosky). Read it all:

…you can’t help but notice something really strange about it: the people have cultivated themselves to the point where they are unsuited for the work available to them. All these exquisitely schooled, sophisticated people, each and every one of whom feels special, are presented with two mainly horrible ways to earn a living: trawler fishing and aluminum smelting. … At the dawn of the 21st century, Icelanders were still waiting for some task more suited to their filigreed minds to turn up inside their economy so they might do it. Enter investment banking.

And don’t miss the little gem about Iceland’s huldufolk (hidden people) tucked away in there:

[Iceland's President] Olafur Ragnar Grimsson theorizes that the surfeit of spirit-beings stems from Icelanders’ abiding sense of loneliness and isolation … Public opinion polls and academic studies show more than half of all inhabitants think it possible or probable — 10 percent call it “certain” — they share their island with otherly beings, ranging from grumpy glacier-dwelling trolls to occasionally gregarious hidden people. … Earlier this year, Iceland’s highway agency had to change the course of a new road leading out of Reykjavik after citizens protested that the original route would disturb an elf’s lair under a big rock. “There are people who believe in elves, and we try to show respect for people’s beliefs,” said Viktor Ingolfsson, an official of the department. “If that means building around an elf stone, we try to accommodate.”

As superstitions go, huldufolk are pretty innocuous. But you have to wonder if the commonplace acceptance of illusory beings made it slightly easier for them to believe in illusory wealth.

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5 March 2009 7:43 am


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