Sometimes I Go to the Movies

Yes, I did see the new Star Wars movie, and yes, I liked it.  But I’d like to take a moment to talk about the other movie I saw recently, which didn’t get nearly as much media attention:  In the Heart of the Sea.  Jim Macdonald and I made a six-hour round trip (not counting the movie itself and a dinner afterward) down to Hanover NH and back in order to see it,  because it wasn’t showing anywhere closer and probably wasn’t ever going to be.  A based-on-a-nonfiction-book film about the fate of the whaleship Essex isn’t going to pull big audiences into the movie theatres at a season when they could be watching heartwarming dramas or the triumphant return of a major franchise, but if In the Heart of the Sea could be said to have a target audience, my husband/co-author and I are it.

It turned out to be a good movie, if not a movie to most people’s taste – very pretty to watch, with a haunting musical score, and it didn’t leave Macdonald muttering about nautical inaccuracies. (At one point near the beginning of the film, the sailors see a squall line approaching like a solid black wall on the horizon. “Does it really look like that?” I asked Macdonald in a whisper. “No,” he said. “It looks worse.” After which we get a truly impressive storm-at-sea sequence.)

I must confess that I, as a lit geek with a fondness for Moby-Dick, and a certain amount of awareness of its sources and analogues, did do a bit of muttering. For one thing, the whale that rammed and sank the whaleship Essex was not a white whale. That was a different whale, known in the sperm whale fisheries as Mocha (not Moby) Dick.  I’ll give the folks who did the CGI whale points, though, for depicting it as the actual Mocha Dick was supposed to look–not a solid white whale, but a mottled white-and-light-brown one, sort of a pinto effect. I expect that the CGI artists did their research in the same historical source material where Melville did his.

I did wince a bit, though, at the recurring “[N] days stranded” captions during the post-sinking portion of the film. Because you can’t be stranded in a small boat on the open sea. Being stranded requires being left or cast up on a strand — a seashore. (If somebody puts you there deliberately, you are marooned.) If you’re in a boat, you’re either adrift (if you aren’t at least attempting to make progress in some direction) or at sea (if you are, however desperately.)

Not that I’m picky about such things….

It’s the Longest Night of the Year

Sunset’s at 4:03 PM (at least, it’ll be 4:03 at the local weather station I get my reports from), and by 4:30 it’ll be as black as the inside of a goat outdoors.  But we keep on keeping on, in the conviction that the sun will once again come back and the days will start their outward spiral toward midsummer.

In honor of the season, and of all its assorted celebrations, I’m once again offering my wintertime holiday special

From now through Twelfth Night (6 January 2016), my price for a full-dress line-edit plus a 3-5 page letter of critique drops to a flat $1000 for a standard-weight novel, which you can also purchase in the form of a gift certificate redeemable by the recipient at a future date of their choice.  (And if the gift recipient happens to be you, that’s perfectly fine with me.)

Peeve of the Day

I blame Star Trek.  (The Original Series, of course.  ST-TOS was the s-f show of my adolescence, and I imprinted on it hard.  Next Gen was weak tea – Earl Grey, hot — by comparison.) The weapon of choice for Kirk and Spock and everybody else who was boldly going on the starship Enterprise was the phaser, that handy gadget that looked like a bar of soap and either stunned the target or caused him/her/it to vanish completely, dealer’s choice.  (I shudder to think about the complexities of investigating murders and disappearances in the Star Trek universe, given the availability of that kind of murder weapon and body-disposal tool in one easily-concealed package.   Private ownership of phasers and related weapons would have to be as illegal as hell, which would of course lead to a thriving black market in same.  But those are not the stories that Star Trek was about.)

Television viewers watching Kirk and Spock subdue (and occasionally disintegrate) their adversaries needed a verb to describe the action, and since the weapon was a phaser, obviously what it did to people (and occasional things) was to phase them.

(Later on, we had Kitty Pryde of the X-Men, who phased – passed through – objects.  But Star Trek was there first.)

Which was all very well, but then people started using phased as a word for all occasions, including as a misspelling of the already existing word, fazed, as in, Jane wasn’t fazed – that is, “disturbed, bothered, or embarrassed” – by the sudden reappearance of the ex-boyfriend she thought she’d left behind in Patagonia.

Both phase (as a verb) and faze came into written English in the nineteenth century, but both have older roots.  Phase-the-verb traces its ancestry back through the earlier noun phase (as in phase of the moon) to the Greek verb phainein, meaning “to show, to make appear.”  (That initial ph- would be a dead giveaway even if we knew nothing else.)  Faze, on the other hand, has a sturdy English pedigree, going back to the mid-fifteenth-century Kentish dialect verb feeze,“to frighten, alarm, or discomfit”, and back from there to the Old English verb fesian or fysian*, “to drive away, send forth, or put to flight.”

Which brings us, by circuitous means, to my peeve of the day, which is writers saying phased when what they mean is fazed.

Don’t do that, okay?  It makes the baby philologists cry.

*Consistency in spelling wasn’t a big thing in Old English.  Or in Middle English.  Or in Modern English, for that matter, until the printers and the lexicographers between them started standardizing things.

Presented for Your Amusement

A bit of seasonal humor, from the archives of The Toast:  The Passive-Aggressive Guide to Book Gifting.  As always, read the comments, too; The Toast is one of the few sites on the net where doing so adds value to the experience, rather than making the reader despair of humanity.

Also, a research source:  The New York Public Library has put up a collection of digitized theatrical ephemera.  That hyperlink goes to an article about the collection; the actual archive is here.  They’ve got all sorts of stuff: programs, posters, correspondence, photos.