drum up the dawn

March 5, 2019
Remember some very fine verses by Rudyard Kipling, the famous "Ballad of East and West." There you have a British officer who is pursuing an Afghan horse thief. They're riding. Then Kipling writes, "They have ridden the low moon out of the sky, their hoofs drum up the dawn." Now, you can't ride the moon out of the sky and you can't drum up the dawn in Spanish, because the language doesn't allow it. It can't be done. For example, you can say in English you are dreaming away your life. Well, that can't be said in Spanish or any romance language, as far as I know. It might be said perhaps in German or one of the Scandinavian tongues, but not in a romance language. A Spaniard can dream his life away, but he can't say so. Just as we can die even if we don't think of death.

And English has another virtue. The virtue of Anglo-Saxon words: they're short. If you say selini in Greek, that's far too long--three syllables. In Spanish, luna, two syllables. In French, just one syllable, really, lune. But in English that beautiful, lingering word "moon." It's the right word, no? Moon and sun, those two were the right words.
From a conversation with Jorge Luis Borges on the translations of his books and poetry, via Harper's
I think English is sometimes unfairly maligned in a self-deprecating way by cosmopolitan speakers of it, anxious to avoid linguistic chauvinism. And it's true - the languages wide-ranging roots mean it's not the best for rhyming poetry, and those same roots lead to one of the biggest wordsets with lots of exceptions and inconsistent spelling rules - making full mastery as a second language (or even a first) difficult.

But I've been told is that, at least when coming from certain other first languages, it's pretty easy to pick up the basics, to understand and make yourself understood. And that big vocabulary means words can carry a lot of economical nuance, so that more experienced speakers can express themselves with great fidelity.

I was reading this piece on why ji32k7au4a83 is a popular password - SPOILER: it's a transliteration of "My Password" via a Taiwanese system for phonetically typing Mandarin. (Previously I've been interested in the "Russian via English phonemes" system used by Russians in the USA who often didn't have access to proper cyrillic keyboards). So I don't know if it's coincidence (or possibly post-facto "Just So" stories) but Latin- and Cyrillic-character alphabets seem especially fortuitous in the early days of computing - I mean later coders had to pay the price to move beyond the basics of 256 characters of ASCII, but you could be very expressive on very low-resolution screens, and less than half of that 256 will let you say pretty much anything you can say in English, if you aren't too fussy about accent marks or nuanced punctuation.
Some public radio program just had Sam Donaldson talking about how he thought that cameras in the Presidential Press Briefing room were a bit of a mistake because you see the contention between the Presidential Press Secretary trying to deliver the "official story" and the reporters trying to pry and get more information, and that for many people their sympathies will be for the Secretary, that they'll see the reporters (who might have their own agendas) as hounding the poor guy who already delivered the message. That's kind of odd; my sympathies were immediately for the reporters, figuring the secretary to be a bit of a weasel who ultimately is an obstruction to an objective view of the situation.

Is it the way I politically bend, which I guess would reflect the alleged "leftward bias" of the media, that makes me take the side I do? I think I'd feel the same way even during a Democratic administration. Do people in general trust political figures more than they do the media? That's kind of sad.