Posts Tagged history

Shenanigan: The English Language

So a friend of mine (one who also majored in English in college) was recently bemoaning the sorry state of our language. “Why on Earth,” she asked, “do vowels sound different in different words? How is it that e, i, and y can all make the same sound? Why can’t our vowels just make sense, like in Japanese, Spanish, or German? Even umlauts make sense, after a while. One letter should equal one sound. Period.” After a moment’s thought, she added, “And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the letter C. It’s redundant.”

Those of you who remember back when I was churning out reviews once a week will recall that spelling is something dear to my heart; it’s one of the things that I will invariably pick on in a comic. Frankly, I’m a bit of a snob about it, since I was one of those insufferable spelling-bee champions back in junior high school. So I might as well make my social loss your gain, right?

While I can’t personally offer any suggestions for how to fix English’s predicament, I can at least offer perspective on how it got there. My college studies included a few overviews of the history of English, and . . . to make a long story short, English is not a purebred language. It was born when Old Germanic and Latin had a one-century stand on some backwater island north of France. Their illegitimate child was a mutt to the core, displaying spelling and grammar traits of both languages. The parent cultures couldn’t stand the look of the child, so they left it to die, alone, on the island.

Then French took a shine to the poor young thing when William the Conqueror arrived. It was a sad and horrifying tryst, considering the relative ages of the language, and English would never fully rid itself of the taint from that relationship. A certain je ne sais quoi remains to this day.

Perhaps as a result of this abuse so early in its life, English has displayed a voracious appetite for conjugal relations with other languages. Every time the English language encounters a new culture, it takes that language for all it’s worth. The pederast French, on the other hand, pooh-poohed the entire affair and set up a sanctimonious Academy in order to deny the effects of any further dalliances.

In short, English is so messed-up because it is a dissolute whore. But don’t lay the blame at its feet—the poor language is a victim of circumstance.

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Review: Hark! A Vagrant

One of the marvels of webcomics is that you can find a comic to suit your tastes, almost no matter what your tastes might be. Certainly the results are skewed toward video game wackiness, college wackiness, furry wackiness, and postmodern pretensions disguised as wackiness, but a variety of other comics will show up to cater to whatever interests might randomly come up. As an example of this, I present Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, a comic that’s mostly about history, literature, and other things that people study in college without hoping to do anything with them.

I first found out about Kate Beaton via The Comics Curmudgeon, which linked to a parody she’d done of For Better or For Worse and how the characters were being railroaded into a happy ending. I can’t for the life of me find this comic anymore (and I don’t know if that’s because of any C&D from Lynn Johnston or simply because Beaton doesn’t use terribly intuitive titles for her comics), but it caught my attention enough that I’d go back and read her other comics occasionally. And since then, she’s picked up her own website and put the comics in a more navigable format, which is always a plus.

The art style varies between something resembling FBorFW and something vaguely 70s-ish, for lack of a better way of putting it. By the looks of it, Beaton pretty much freehands the entire comic, giving it a very light feel. Naturally, the rules of anatomy take a backseat to the joke. That’s not such a bad thing in this case, since the people are still recognizable as people.

Her hand-lettering is also legible, which I can tell you is no easy task–though I’m often left scratching my head and wondering where all the periods went. This is a stylistic choice that gets at me because of the whole editing minor thing. It shows up in Garfield, presumably as a way to show that the main character’s just too lazy for end punctuation, but it also shows up in AWKWARD ZOMBIE as shorthand for a character being particularly angry or ignorant. Of course, given the way Beaton depicts some of the historical figures, this just might be intentional.

The writing in the comic is as idiosyncratic as the art. The premise is generally to take historical and literary figures and humanize them by having them speak and act like modern people. Sometimes the result is hilarious, and other times the joke sorta falls flat. Be warned: with the blinders off, you get a lot of bawdy jokes and salty language from people you really don’t expect it from. This isn’t the most work-safe of comics.

The other side-effect of a comic based on random historical figures is that you’ll have to spend a good chunk of time on Wikipedia figuring out who the heck these people are. She also references Canadian politics a lot, but hey–she lives in Canada. She knows what she’s joking about . . . but because the comments section under each comic only gives the comment on the most recent one, her pearls of wisdom are sadly lost.

To add to the randomness, Kate’s younger self occasionally shows up, as does a Shetland pony. And there’s a stretch of some forty comics done in MSPaint for no apparent reason.

So there are things that could be improved code-wise, and perhaps Beaton could stand to focus on either the history jokes or the other random gags, but in all, Hark! A Vagrant is an enjoyable read that never stops finding a left field to come out of.

Comic Rating: Six happy wanderers.

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