And now for something completely different..., Dismal Scientists

No Formula for Comfort

Or, Accountants Really, Really Don’t Mince Words

Self-Portrait with Eye-shade

I’ve been doing some research in-and-around accountancy, including some attempts to learn actual methods. It is what it is; mainly what I’ve noticed is that authors in the field like to get ahead of you on the question of how excruciating (supposedly) their subject can be.

For example, there’s the almost-a-Bond-villain approach:

“Let’s begin with candor. Do you expect to enjoy this introductory course in financial accounting?”

~Clyde P. Stickney, Financial accounting: an introduction to concepts, methods, and uses, 8th ed., The Dryden Press series in accounting (Fort Worth: Dryden Press, 1997).

And the overly-descriptive but also passive-aggressive horror-movie gambit…

“If for many people history is boring and all about dead people, why produce a Companion to the history of a discipline that is widely perceived as a mind-numbing activity performed by the living dead – cold, colourless number crunchers? In this volume we hope to show that accounting history is much more than describing the content of crumbling ledgers, the scrutiny of faded balance sheets and charting impenetrable methods for recording transactions in the past. While we don’t promise to excite readers with historical tales of lust, debauchery, and murder, we do hope to reveal the manner in which the seemingly innocuous practice of accounting has pervaded human existence in numerous and fascinating ways.”

~J. R. Edwards and Stephen P. Walker, eds., The Routledge companion to accounting history, Routledge companions (London ; New York: Routledge, 2009).

But dramatic introduction hooks aside, it’s not really as bad as all that. Money is interesting!

Image: Anton Graff, “Self-Portrait with Eye-Shade,” 1813, Wikimedia Commons

And now for something completely different..., Archival Follies, Our Glorious National Heritage

Geese Beware!

Or, Trafficking in Goose Proverbs

Silly Goose by Kris *V*, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Kris *V* 

Amidst some recent research,I ran across a pro-Jeffersonian Embargo (probargo?) newspaper piece which opened its partisan catechism with a curious saying:

I guess the fox is a Federalist?

“For the Columbian Phenix,” Columbian Phenix (Providence, RI), 12 November 1808

The editorial itself is a dialogue, where one side, expressed in italics, offers simple opinions by someone who opposes the Embargo (I admire the administration of Washington or I like not your republican principles etc), and the longer answers, in plain text, offer detailed rebuttals. Since the Phenix [sic] appears to be a Jeffersonian newspaper, the piece seems to be a preaching-to-the-choir editorial, aimed at mobilizing the base — a GOTV operation. (The catechism form of political hackery is a bit different from how we present things today, but you could think of it as a sort of talking points memo).

But as someone with a vested interest in things brantaïc, I was more curious about the epigram than the Republican politicking.

From a few searches in the usual places (Google Books, HathiTrust, etc), it seems the phrase was common enough – and old enough – to be rooted in the primers and spellers, the basic textbooks of the 16th through 19th centuries. Specifically, it proverb appeared in an often-reprinted list of the “best English proverbs” in books like the New England Primer:

~Westminster Assembly. The New-England primer, improved, for the more easy attaining the true reading of English. To which is added, the Assembly of divines catechism (Hartford : Printed by Hudson & Goodwin, M,DCC,LXXXVIII. [1788].)

Perhaps unsurprisingly –- and despite its later Republican bona fides –- these geese-centric proverbs don’t appear in Noah Webster’s (successful) attempt at a nationalist reconstruction of language, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language (1783). The more influential of his works during his own lifetime and for well after (who reads a dictionary after all?), the GIEL included a speller, a grammar, and a reader, all aimed “[t]o diffuse an uniformity and purity of language in America, to destroy the provincial prejudices that originate in the trifling differences of dialect and produce reciprocal ridicule, to promote the interest of literature and the harmony of the United States…” — or so, at least, he explained in the Preface to the American Spelling Book.

In that light, one can hardly expect the best English proverbs to have remained, once all the thoroughly monarchist and colourful extra vowels have been removed, right? And as go the English proverbs, so go the geese. Flown away, but not forgotten.

And now for something completely different..., Archival Follies

My New Favorite Jefferson Quote

In Which TJ Explains Why It’s Okay That He Changed His Mind

In this case, he’s explaining why he went from being dead set against protecting manufacturing in the U.S., to seeing protectionism as a positive good (hint: it has to do with Great Britain).

“For in so complicated a science as political economy, no one axiom can be laid down as wise and expedient for all times and circumstances. Inattention to this is what has called for this explanation to answer the cavils of the uncandid, who use my former opinion only as a stalking-horse to keep us in eternal vassalage to a foreign and unfriendly nation

~Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Austin, as quoted in Mathew Carey, Addresses of the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of National Industry(Philadelphia: Published by M. Carey and Son, 126, Chesnut Street, 1819), 161. Emphasis in Carey’s original.

Also? “cavils of the uncandid” is my new “stalking-horse of eternal vassalage” cover band.

And now for something completely different...

Dissertation Epigraph?

Or, some things never change

I know that the book is unequally written, that the order is not always as happy as it might have been, that the facts and observations are miscellaneously presented to the reader, and that sometimes those belonging to the same subject are separated from each other at too great a distance.

~Amasa Delano, Narrative of voyages and travels in the northern and southern hemispheres (1817), p.18

Image cite: eye of einstein, Halakahiki, Flickr, CC License

And now for something completely different...

Suspicious Serendipity

Or, This Cabal Meets in a Pseudo-Starbucks

Are you ever suspicious of serendipity? I don’t mean the junky ice-cream place (that goes without saying), I mean the kind of random (and usually happy) occurrence that seems just… not quite random enough.

You see, I used to notice this pattern. Back when I was a regular reader of newspapers and magazines, every so often I’d notice a curious repetition of the same unusual word, the meaning of which I did not know — gormless, fabellation, or pantoglot — all clustered within the things I read that week. The word would appear in a New York Times Magazine story on disabled football players, a New Yorker review of a new German opera, a Newsweek article on Jesus, and the Harper’s index, related to some statistic about Etruscan poetry.

This happened frequently enough to convince me that someone was trying to improve the vocabulary of all voracious mass media readers, albeit obliquely, one word per week. I always figured there was some kind of competition among New York journalists and columnists to use the word in a story, arranged each week at some kind of swank cocktail party, or at lunch in a hotel restaurant that named a salad.

Anyway, it hasn’t happened in a while — until yesterday. I noticed it just after engaging in some shopping therapy at the local Barnes & Noble. In both the (highly recommended) books I bought, the same clichéd John Lennon quote was trotted out. And as it turned out, the order I read them in was quite important.

Here’s the first:

In short, it’s been incredibly useful in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I started it in the hopes of getting a column. It is a prime example of something that John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.”
~John Scalzi, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 (Tor, 2010; orig. 2008), 16

And the second, read about an hour later:

I gave him the honest, depressingly typical answer, which amounted to “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” That led to a discussion about John Lennon, which led to a discussion about The Beatles, which led to a discussion about Yoko Ono, which led nowhere.
~Seth Grahame-Smith, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Grand Central Publishing, 2010), 7-8.

Here’s the thing: until I read the Scalzi, I had no idea that quote was commonly attributed to John Lennon; and if I hadn’t read him first, the Grahame-Smith line would have passed me by completely.

This secret cabal correspondence course in pop-culture trivia that I’m apparently signed up for is beginning to freak me out.

daliborlev, “The Cabal,” Flickr, CC License