merveilleux!

I've seen a short news item about a leading French dictionary, Le Robert, adding a third person pronoun for nonbinary people. The pronoun is iel (masculine singular)/iels (masculine plural)/ielle (feminine singular)/ielles (feminine plural). So to choose your (French) pronouns you must decide if you're a masculine nonbinary person or a feminine nonbinary person . . . and of course I understand the grammatical necessity in French, but what a triumph of form over content.

English verbs

In the course of reading about linguistics, I ran across a feature that verbs have in some language: a grammatical structure that changes a verb for doing something into a verb for making something do something—what might be called a "causative" form (I think the word can have that meaning in linguistics, but I think it may have other meanings too). This isn't a matter of having a different verb, like English die/kill or learn/teach, but of making a change in the same verb: attaching another word, or giving it a prefix or suffix, or changing its vowels, for example.

We don't normally think of English verbs this way, but there are several pairs of verbs that differ only in vowel usage and that seem to have exactly that change in meaning: lie and lay (to make something lie somewhere), sit and set, rise and raise, and fall and fell are the ones I can think of. (Are there others?) It makes me wonder if older Germanic languages, or proto-Indo-European, or some other ancestor of English, had this kind of changes as a regular grammatical feature.

I notice that the examples I've thought of are all verbs relating to position or motion. Of course that might be just an accident, since we're only talking about four verbs, and a lot of short, simple verbs are likely to relate to those topics.

something I noticed

Our local friends have been inviting us over to watch anime with them. This week they introduced us to Giant Robo, a series from the nineties. As we were leaving, I commented, primarily to C, that one of the characters, Tetsugyu, reminded me of Li Kui/Iron Ox from the Chinese novel Water Margin. When I got home I looked up the series—and discovered that it was based on the work of a manga artist who had done an adaptation of Water Margin, that Tetsugyu was generally thought to be a version of Iron Ox, and in fact that his name means "Iron Ox."

So apparently I've picked up enough about East Asian culture to spot an obvious reference, without needing to get hints . . . Tetsugyu's abilities, behavior, and dialogue just kept making me think of Iron Ox. I'm kind of pleased about that.

quotable

The public interest is also served by maintaining our constitutional structure and maintaining the liberty of individuals to make intensely personal decisions according to their own convictions—even, or perhaps particularly, when those decisions frustrate government officials.

B.S.T. Holdings L.L.C. et al. v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (No. 21-60845), 12 November 2021.

I'm glad to see such a principle still being stated by a federal court.

work

As of this morning, I have four journal issues that are one article away from completion. Two are waiting for the author to send me their feedback on the copy editing; one is waiting for the production manager to advise me on a style question; and one has a complicated issue about intellectual property rights that I've referred to the production manager.

Fortunately, I have two articles to do for an entirely different journal from a different publisher, so I won't be idle this afternoon . . .

novelists have no sense of chronology

In reading P.D. James's fifth Adam Dalgleish novel, I ran across a passage where Dalgleish visits a solicitor's office in a Victorian house, and reflects that

It was a house in which any of Hardy’s more prosperous characters would have felt themselves at home, could with confidence have discussed the effects of the abolition of the corn laws or the perfidy of the French privateers.

That sounded strange to me, so I checked the dates. Hardy was born in 1840, long after the French privateers of the Napoleonic Wars (ended in 1815). The corn laws were abolished in 1846, when he was six years old. His first novel published under his own name came out in 1873, and I don't think he wrote novels set in earlier decades, though I must confess I know his poetry much better than his fiction. So I can't really imagine his characters thinking either of those topics was current, and I wouldn't think anyone as literate as Dalgleish would suppose so.

word history

I'm in the process of reading the Adam Dalgleish novels by P.D. James, in order. In an early chapter of the fourth novel, Shroud for a Nightingale, I ran across a description of a (probably minor) character dressing in a hideous plaid suit:

It gave him an anthropomorphic appearance, like an animal in a child’s comic; and Dalgliesh almost expected to find himself shaking a paw.

It's rather striking to find that specific word there. Albedo Anthropomorphics, an anthology title that was one of the fountainheads of the furry genre, came out first in 1983, following on a discussion of anthropomorphic art in 1980. But Shroud for a Nightingale was first published in 1971! This might be one of the first appearances of the word "anthropomorphic" for furry characters.

next

So now that I've wound up Tapestry, I'm in the process of starting up new campaigns. In fact, three of them: One for players here in Kansas, and two for remote players in California, Nevada, and Washington. My original plan was to run only one for the remote players, but then three additional people expressed an interest, and nine players are more than I'd want in one campaign even without the handicap of videoconferencing.

For the local players, I offered a list of fairly conventional options, focused on action/adventure. All but one were based either on published material, and that one was the least popular. Far and away the most popular was a campaign in the universe of Buffy the Vampire Slayer—but one not set in the present or in Buffy's Sunnydale before its destruction, but in Manchester, England in the 1830s, when it was the world's greatest industrial city and a center of free trade radicalism and antislavery. There's a published game system for this that does a really brilliant job of capturing the feel of the source material.

For one group of remote players, I'm starting up a campaign set on the colonized Mars of an alternative history, one where the great powers of the world are Brazil, France, and Japan—all of them predominantly Catholic, though Brazil has freedom of religion. I borrowed the immediate setting from one of my own supplements, GURPS City Stats: A Brazilian city situated at the base of Mars's orbital elevator and largely run by the corporation that built it, under the loose supervision of the imperial government. It looks as if the players are leaning toward family saga as a theme. I've written notes on all fifteen of Mars's large colonies and worked out their trade relationships, so I have some idea of the social and economic context.

The other group of remote players are doing something more experimental: A campaign about the exploration of dreams, focused on a group of people who have shared lucid dreams. I'm in the process of working out the mechanics of the various special abilities that dreamers can have, and of thinking through what sorts of problems these imply for them. Happily, some of my players have come up with imaginative suggestions for what kind of characters they might be playing.

it is accomplished

As of this evening, I've run the final session of Tapestry, my longest-running rpg campaign ever. I started it in 2014, with five players; this session had four of the five, plus a guest star who had become a regular, plus another guest star who had come back for a final cameo. One of the starting players and the first guest star had created new characters when the campaign shifted focus a year or so back.

This was a fantasy campaign set in a created world—not quite "historical fantasy": it could more accurately be described as archaeological or even anthropological fantasy. Technology ranged from Paleolithic to Bronze Age, with only a few cities having developed writing; religion and magic shared an animistic basis. I had decided to run a world with multiple humanoid races—seven, to be specific, to correspond to the seven classical metals and the seven astrological planets. The best known continent was named Terra Media, in an allusion to Tolkien, but I was specifically trying to avoid one of Tolkien's assumptions: the existence of "good" races (the elves) and "evil" races (the orcs and trolls). Instead I had each race capable of both good and bad actions—but with a different failure mode for each, in the form of a specific way of seeking its own exclusive advantage through the detriment of other races.

The first two-thirds of the campaign involved trade voyages to a second continent, Occasia, which had its own cultures and emergent civilizations of the various races; the traders made amazing profits and in the process recruited a new partner played by the guest star who became a permanent player. Then, on the way back from the first voyage, they learned that the world was faced with rapid and drastic climate change: a shift toward an ice age, caused by the Winter Queen, ruler of the greatest troll land, Montes Nubili, who wanted it to be "always winter and never Christmas." This led to the revelation that a dwarven craftsman of several centuries ago had created a magic ring for each race, made of its special metal, that gave the wearer powers especially suited to that race. They spent the second voyage gaining allies, and then went to Montes Nubili to confront the Winter Queen, led by one of the party who was herself a trollwife. The confrontation happened two sessions ago, triggered by the insistence of the second guest player's character that she was speaking for her husband, who had to take part in the discussion within the great temple; one session ago, confronted by an enraged Winter Queen, Sangmu fought a duel with her and induced her to surrender, gaining possession of the Ring of Lead; this session was the final dénouement, as the consequences of that victory were sorted out and Sangmu accepted that she had made herself the new Winter Queen and couldn't put the Ring of Lead aside.

Along the way we had interesting subplots—notably a sequence where Hanno, the nixie trader, was told by his mother than with his new wealth, he needed to get married; I made up three potential wives for him, had each of them played as a secondary role by one of the other players, and saw Hanno choose one of them—and then meet his infant daughter when he got back from the second voyage. That was a small touch of Jane Austen in the midst of the Quest of the Golden Fleece, and I was happy with how it played out.

Wives and Daughters

Now I've finished Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters.

* Molly's stepsister Cynthia is cast as the less worthy choice, but really she's not a terrible person; in particular, it's clear that she feels genuine good will and affection toward Molly, all the way through her narrative. Her worst problems come from not wanting people she respects—particularly Molly's father—to think badly of her past actions.

* I like it that Molly is well thought of both by the Tory aristocratic family and by the Whig aristocratic family. I particularly like Lady Harriet's good will to her.

* Gaskell died before finishing the book, and her editors wrote a final chapter discussing what would have happened, to round things off. But when I read it, it seemed clear to me what was going to happen next, and thus the novel's conflict had already been resolved. I think it could have been ended at Gaskell's final chapter and I wouldn't have had any sense of being left hanging.