Friday, June 19, 2009

The Word Nerd Sez: N is for ...


It's taken me a while to get back to my Word Nerd feature. Frankly, I wasn't inspired by the letter "N." It seemed like most N words started with prefixes: neo-, neuro-, not to mention non-. Nertz*, I thought. All these N words are namby-pamby.** So I did what I usually do when I'm stuck for a word: I started browsing the dictionary.

First thing that struck me: there are only 28 pages under the letter N, and two of those are devoted to tables. That's not very many pages; even O has more (at 31), and it doesn't even approach M (75) or the monster S section (168). But I saw some promising candidates: nectary, which is the part of a plant which produces nectar (who knew it had a name?); and negatron, which we know better as the electron and which would have given me time to expound on science and names and things.

But then I saw this word nekton. First of all, it looks cool, with that k in the middle of the word, naked without an accompanying c. (Very Greek, which is its origin ... unlike naked, which is from Middle English.) And the definition: "Free swimming aquatic animals (as in whales or squid) essentially independent of wave and current action." I didn't even know there was a word for that. Actually there are several words to classify aquatic life by their methods of locomotion (or lack thereof). There's one we've all heard of, plankton, which are those life forms that drift within the water. There's also neuston, which are those life forms that float or move on top of the water (water striders, flying fish), and benthos, those that live on the seabed, at the bottom of the ocean (bivalves, coral, anemones).

So again I read the dictionary and learn something new; not just about words, but about scientific classification. And I just know I'm going to have to use benthos in a book sometime, when I get to the Atlantis analogue I've got tucked away for future use. Nifty!

*derived from nuts!
**An eponym taken from the nickname of an 18th-century English poet.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kitten puddle!

Yes, it is possible to cuddle half a dozen kittens at once. All it requires is flexibility and no dignity.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Janespotting: Sense and Sensibility (1995 film)

I'm going to wrap up my survey of works inspired by Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility with the 1995 starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and just about everybody who's anybody in British film. (As a fun aside, check out the number of actors common to this film and the Harry Potter films ... at least six, by my count.) In addition to starring as Elinor, Emma Thompson also wrote the screenplay, winning an Oscar and Golden Globe, among other awards, for her work. The film was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (losing to Braveheart, really?), won the Golden Globe for best drama (take that, Mel!), and was generally beloved by critics and Austen devotees. I didn't really count myself as a devotee at the time, but the film set off a desire to seek out more of Austen's work, and I date my mini-obsession with Austen to seeing the film.

I think the film works even if you aren't a fan of Austen, or even period drama. Thompson cuts to the essentials, and they are very clear: the Dashwood women are left with little money and are dependent on others for a comfortable lifestyle. It would be nice if marriage could be for love, but it's not always possible. Thompson cuts out characters who don't reinforce this basic situation—the child-obsessed Lady Middleton and beau-obsessed Anne Steele, for instance—and we don't really miss them. She brings Austen's wit to the fore, and we see Fanny Dashwood's cheapness and social climbing. Best of all, she develops the dry wit of both Elinor and Edward; it makes them more interesting characters, and makes their romance really seem like a meeting of minds. When reserved Elinor can't control her emotions at the denouement ... well, I can't help but watching that scene a couple times over.

Although Elinor and Edward's romance provides the final conclusion, and that of Marianne and Willoughby supplies the passion and drama, the romantic hero of the film, at least in my eyes, is Colonel Brandon. That's entirely the fault of Alan Rickman, who could read the phone book and hold me transfixed. His Colonel Brandon is tender, agonized, resigned, hopeful—all with a few looks, some softly spoken words, and a shy smile when he is finally rewarded with true love. Every time Rickman is on screen I can't help but want more Brandon in the story.*

So overall, I have to consider this version of Sense and Sensibility to be one of the finest adaptations of Austen's work, as I think it actually improves some aspects of the original. Is it the best? Well, it's hard to argue against the faithfulness and completeness of the Pride & Prejudice miniseries ... so maybe it's the best film adaptation ever. I will have to reserve judgement on that, however, until I revisit the excellent film version of Persuasion.... And that will have to wait until later this year. This will be the last Janespotting entry for a while; I'm devoting my summer to my remedial lit project. Coming not too far in the future, I hope, will be a review of Dante's Inferno.

*It makes me really anticipate Rickman's work in the final Harry Potter films, to see him show Snape's tragic history. I also should get a copy of the 1990 supernatural romance Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which Rickman has a wonderful leading man role, as well as an unfortunate mustache; if you haven't seen it, you should.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Photo of the Week--6/8/09

This is one of my favorite photos that I've taken; it dates to February 2006, when we took a week-long trip out to Utah and Arizona. I snapped this vista during a walk through the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. There's something to be said for going during the off-season, with fewer tourists to compete with and a little snow to brighten up the landscape and contrast with the oranges of the canyon. I had this as my wallpaper for at least a couple of years, until I replaced it with a shot from Antarctica, but I might go back to it if I get tired of cool blues and greens.