Monday, January 31, 2011

AAAAUUUUGGGHHH

I could swear I've already written this post, but I can't find it in the archives, and it's so important it bears repeating anyway. Thanks to Denny for reminding me.
You may not know it, but you have probably heard this sound effect dozens, maybe hundreds of times:





This scream was first recorded for the movie Distant Drums in 1951. The scream, originally titled, appropriately enough, Man being eaten by alligator, next appears in the 1953 film The Charge at Feather River. It is from this movie that the scream gets its name - a character called Wilhelm makes the noise after being shot in the leg with an arrow.
The scream was worked into the soundtrack of B monster movies over the next many years - a sort of in-joke, a way for sound designers to leave their mark on a movie. It somehow manages to show up twice in the Judy Garland film A Star is Born, probably my favorite use of it just because it's so friggin random.





The scream got a revival when Benjamin Burtt Jr., sound designer for just about every Lucas film, stuck it into the first Star Wars movie, and then every Star Wars movie after that, as well as the Indiana Jones movies, and, I suspect, every other movie he ever worked on.
It then became a phenomenon, with sound designers sneaking it in where ever they could. Often, directors would catch it and demand it be taken out, so people began slipping the scream in all sneaky like.
What I love about the scream is that, once you know to listen for it, it sounds absurdly out of place. Like, is that really a sound that a Storm Trooper would make? An orc in Lord of the Rings? Buzz Lightyear?
And I totally get it. At my job too, I write all of these things all day, and they're dry and clinical and there's nothing of me in them. I wish I could find the visual equivalent of a Wilhelm to sneak into my Help documents.
By the by, there's a good chance that the first guy to utter the Wilhelm scream was none other than Sheb Wooley - the guy who first recorded Flying Purple People Eater. By the by the by, does the Purple People Eater eat purple people, or is he himself purple? I've never been able to figure that one out.
Here's a little compilation for your viewing pleasure.





Info from an On The Media story, supplemented with Wikipedia.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Target Demo

I attended a conference today on church fundraising, and the question of tailoring fundraising to various age groups was brought up. When the subject of reaching out to young adults, people under 35, all eyes fell on the guy next to me and myself, the only young adults in the room. 
I said that if there's one generalization you can make about all of us is that we know when we're being played, and we don't like it. 
Maybe it's because our generation has spent every moment from birth on squirming under marketing demographers' microscopes. We're the Underoo generation - some market researcher somewhere woke up and said "Hey, kids love Superman. Let's put Superman on their underpants." And it worked so well that they put Superman everywhere.
I'm not saying the Underoos don't work. If they made Underoos in my size, I'd probably be wearing them now. I guess what I'm saying is that we're accustomed to being bombarded with messages, pictures, products designed just for us. Because we're special. And for trivial stuff, like Underoos and the awesome Hello Kitty PJs I'm wearing right now, it's cool. But you can't sell me things of substance the same way you sell me underwear. 
For people as bombarded with advertising as we've been all our lives, most fundraising organizations aren't capable of the clever marketing tricks, fancy pitches, or heavy-handed manipulation required to suck us in. Unless you're a Jedi, your Jedi mind tricks won't work on us. See, if you try to trick us and you fail, which you probably will, you've lost our interest and our trust.
So the only option you've got left, in my estimation is just to say "My organization needs some money. Can we have some?" Or maybe that's just me.
And I was thinking, bear with me here, that this may be part of why so many people from my generation get all their news from The Daily Show. See, we've got no patience for the cloying manipulation of Fox News. Rupert Murdoch's got nothing on Mattel or Hasbro when it comes to convincing me I want to buy something, whether it's a product or an ideology. MSNBC can't win me by selling themselves as the anti-Fox News, HLN can't win me by making stories for people with no attention span.
But John Stewart, he's not trying to hide his agenda. He's not trying to pretend he's fair or balanced. He's not sneaking vegetables in with your cheeseburger, if you will. Where folks on Fox and MSNBC and even NPR at times are trying to feed you opinions as facts, Stewart feeds you facts as facts and opinions as punchlines. There's no smoke or mirrors. The man's biased, of course. He's got all kinds of opinions with which I disagree. But he's not trying to trick me into agreeing with him with manipulative headlines and selective reporting. He's not bullshitting me. And my Underoos and I appreciate that.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Unnamed Main Characters

A couple of years back, Dr. Who was a doofy old BBC show that even my dad was too cool to watch. Now, all the cool uncool kids are all over it. And why wouldn't we be? It's a totally good show. Especially when starring the alternately dreamy and creepy David Tennant. Whose Hamlet is by far the best I've ever seen.*
Right now, Dr. Who has me thinking about unnamed main characters. I'm not sure the significance behind Dr. Who's not having a name, other than it being a funny clever bit. Here are some memorable others
  • Poe: He's got unnamed narrators running around all over the place in his short stories. Once, I referred to one of the unnamed narrators in one of his stories as "Poe" and my 11th grade English teacher exploded. True story.
  • It: The name of the clown in the book/movie It is Pennywise, but that's not Its name. Some might argue that It and the guy below are one and the same.
  • The Gunslinger Series: Roland is chasing the mysterious Man in Black. Later, he has a name or three, but I don't think any of them is his real name, and if it is, I don't remember because round about book six I stopped trying to understand anything.
  • Lost: Another mysterious Man in Black, another thing I should have stopped trying to understand long before I actually did. 
  • The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Fistfull of Dollars, and A Few Dollars More: Clint Eastwood's character is called The Man with No Name. Unnamed strangers are common in Westerns, actually. Seriously could not get past the fact that all of the Mexicans were Italians speaking in Italian. 
  • The Yellow Wallpaper: This one's easy - dehumanization of women in society and so forth.
  • Fight Club: The narrator, often called Jack because of his catch phrase "I am Jack's X" (e.g., "I am Jack's smirking revenge"), is never actually named. You could say it's because he's only an aspect of Tyler Durden's persona, but you could probably just as easily say it's because Chuck Palahniuk's a little pretentious. I mean, I would certainly never say that. 
  • Rebecca: The only clue we have as to the narrator's name is that people tell her it's pretty and unusual. Perhaps her identity is eclipsed by the memory of Rebecca.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Oh no, you say, the captain is called Nemo. Nemo, however, is Latin for No Name. Fooled you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I know you are but what am I?

This has been floating around in my head a while, but I keep forgetting to post it here. 
Some months ago, I read this New York Times article, which describes how the police force in one area of China has hired 13 attractive women to improve public relations. Seems the police in this area are known for being particularly brutal, and the pleasant, attractive women are supposed to defray that.
I don't find the story particularly interesting - I'm not even sure why it's a story. Doesn't every industry in every country use attractive people as a pubic relations tool? What I found interesting about the article was this picture and quote:

Four barely-past-teenage girls in white gloves and identical olive jackets and pants snapped to attention. Four pairs of black pumps lined up ruler-straight. Four prim hats perched perfectly atop hair bound in blue and white striped bows.

See, the obvious point of the article is to make the Chinese look backward and sexist... and least that's what I took away from it. But look at the way the author describes the officers. I see a picture of four professional police officers in dress uniforms not terribly different from those worn by police officers here. Can you imagine if the New York Times ran a photo of four young American police women and described them as "barely-past-teenage girls"? It would be inappropriate and disrespectful. Why is it different if the women in the photo live in China?
The story uses this wording to accentuate the fact that the police women's roles are largely for show - they're not allowed to do the same things the male officers are, they have to have certain measurements and physical features to serve, and they have to be under a certain age. I certainly discern that to be sexist and trivializing, although I'm not familiar enough with the culture of the area to make an educated judgement. However, the wording that the authors of the article chose is also sexist and trivializing. It fails to acknowledge the fact that, regardless of whether they're being used as eye candy, these women are professional adults who have chosen a difficult and potentially dangerous line of work.
You know that old adage about what happens when you point one finger at someone else?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

This is the way the world ends


I've recently started reading Lovecraft and suddenly wonder where he's been all my life. Lovecraft wrote what he called "Cosmic horror," a sort of mash-up of horror, sci-fi, and mythology that reads like non-fiction. He invents characters at once compelling and beyond imagining; stories that chill your bones that give you the feeling you're reading a history text.
I don't know enough about him to write a whole ton or anything, but I plan to. Today, though, I was just noticing the similarities between Lovecraft's dystopia and the work of my favorite poets, who all wrote around the same time. 
They all create this nearly apocalyptic world beyond what was once our worst imagining. Creatures more evil than we could once conceive of, never-ending bleak landscapes, and pervasive dark images like hallucinations you can't shake off.
I was thinking how maybe it's got a lot to do with The Great War. The three men wrote around the time of the great war, a time that seems almost quaint to us now. Compared to images of Hiroshima, death camps, Rwanda, even 9-11, World War One fades into the woodwork.
But imagine seeing a zeppelin for the first time. It must have been like watching demons invade from above. Imagine the pictures of mustard gas victims in the paper. Heck, just think about how horrific it would be to see a bunch of folks in those old-style gas masks. The trenches... endless weeks and years in filth and cold, people are spending the last months of their lives in a miserable, disease-ridden hole in the ground. Influenza. Poverty. All documented in vivid photos on the front page. It shows in the writing of the time.

Here. Read 'em out loud to really get the full effect.

Lovecraft:
from The Festival

The nethermost caverns are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.


Yeats:
The Second Coming


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. 
Surely some revelation is at hand; 
Surely the Second Coming is at hand. 
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man, 
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, 
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. 
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, 
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Eliot:
Excerpts from The Wasteland


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar


Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
...
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
...
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.


It's like all writing was horror there for a time. 


Sunday, January 16, 2011

23 Nifty United States doesn't have the same ring

Montana: From the Spanish montaña for mountain. 
Nebraska: After the Platte river, which at the time was called the Nevada river, from the Omaha Omaha ni braska, meaning river flat
Nevada: Snow covered after the Sierra Nevada mountains, whose name in Spanish means snow covered mountains. Because when I think Nevada, I think snow.
New Hampshire: After Old Hampshire (aka Hampshire County, England).
New Jersey: Rumor has it that founder Sir George de Carteret was really pumped about his lovely new shirt. It makes me really sad that I just wrote that, and sadder that I'm not deleting it. Named after Jersey island, Sir George's hometown.
New Mexico: Named for Mexico, which may or may not be named for Mextli, an Aztec god.
New York: After the duke of York. Who had ten thousand men.
North Carolina: After King Charles I, from the proper Latin name Carolus.
South Carolina: Named after the lesser known King South Charles.
North Dakota, South Dakota: A Sioux word for Friend, after the Dakota Indians. You're our friends. Now GTFO.
Ohio: We're seriously only on the letter O? 
Oklahoma: From the Choctaw Indian words - okla meaning people and homa meaning red.
Oregon: Another freaking river, long story short. May be, according to Wikipedia, a reference to an Indian word, ulâkân, for a kind of smelt. Not buying it.
Pennsylvania: Penn's Woods, from a combination of the Latin sylvania. Pennsylvania was not, in fact, named for William Penn, the founder of the state, but for Penn's father. Penn didn't even pick the name; King Charles did. The Online Etymology Dictionary claims Penn the younger wanted to call it New Wales, while State Symbols USA claims Penn wanted to call it Sylvania. 
Rhode Island and Providence Plantation: I did a full post on the origin of this state's name here. Long story short, it's called Rhode Island because it's kind of the same shape as the island of Rhodes.
Tennessee: From ta'nasi, the name of a Cherokee village.
Texas: From a Spanish word Tejas (originally pronounced ta-shas) for friend, which in turn comes from the Caddo word taysha. The original meaning of the word is reflected in the state's motto, which is simply Friendship. Bonus Fact: The unofficial state motto, "Don't mess with Texas," was originally an ad slogan for an anti-littering campaign. 
Utah: Named for the Ute or Uto-Aztecan tribe. May come from an Apache word yudah, meaning high, possibly in reference to the fact that the tribe lived high up in the mountains.
Vermont: From the French vert, meaning green, and mont, meaning mountain. 
Virginia/West Virginia: Named for Queen Elizabeth, who was said to have been the virgin queen, because she never married. Elizabeth did have some romantic liaisons, and it may be safe to say she consummated one or two, but there was no direct evidence to that effect - only rumors and innuendo. I read somewhere that the reason Elizabeth never married might have had something to do with her dad's fondness for murdering his wives, which certainly makes some sense.
Washington: After George Washington, believe it or not.
Wisconsin: Man, American's like naming their states after Native American names for the rivers there.
Wyoming: From a Delaware Indian word for big river flat.


I've got to say, this has to be the least fun I've ever had researching a blog post. The lack of interesting etymologies makes me sad.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fifty Nifty United States, Part I

I once heard it said that it's ironic that people build sprawling housing developments, then name the streets after the trees they've cut down. This must be a time-honored tradition - there are a heck of a lot of states named after Indian tribes.
  • Alabama: Named for a local Indian tribe, the Albaamu, whose name, in turn, derives from albah amo which loosely translates to plant cutters.
  • Alaska: From the Aleut alaxsxaq, meaning the object toward which the action of the sea is directed, which is a mouthful. Speaking of mouthfuls, the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that the baked Alaska is named either for its color or for the fact that it's cold inside. A shocking revelation.
  • Arizona: No one can seem to agree. Could come from the Basque word for Good Oak; could come from Spanish by way of the O'odham Indian language's arizonac word meaning having a little spring; could come from , the arizuma, the Spanish by way of Aztec word for place that's got silver; could come from the Spanish Arida zona, for arid land. My money's on arid.
  • Arkansas: Named for the Arkansas river, which in turn was named for the Acansa tribeacansa being the French by way of Sioux word for downstream place. I think.
  • California: Another one we're foggy on; probably named after a fictional city found in the Spanish romance Las sergas de Esplandián by a fella by the name of Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo. 
  • Colorado: Named for the Colorado river, from the Spanish word for red colored, referring to the color of a lot of soil in the region.
  • Connecticut: You think Connecticut's hard to spell? It comes from the Algonquian quinnitukqut, their name for the Connecticut river. It means long tidal river.
  • Delaware: Named for the Delaware river, which is named for a dude called Lord De la Warr, the first governor of Jamestown at Virginia. Which is nowhere near Delaware. 
  • Florida: From the Spanish for Pascua florida, which translates to flowery Easter, a Spanish name for Palm Sunday, 'cause they discovered it on Palm Sunday.
  • Georgia: Named after King George. Finally a simple one.
  • Hawaii: Probably from the Polynesian hawaiki, meaning place of the gods
  • Idaho: Most sources agree that it's named because apparently some dude named George Willing made up the name and claimed it was an Indian word for Gem of the Mountains. Online Etymology Dictionary disagrees and says it comes from the Apache word idaahe, which means enemy. Either way, pretty silly.
  • Illinois: Exceptionally long and boring story short, named for the Illinois Indians. 
  • Indiana: Land of the Indians. "We named our state for you. Now get out."
  • Iowa: From the Dakota by way of French word Aiouez, a local Indian tribe, whose name may or may not mean sleepy ones.
  • Kansas: Named for the Kansas river, named for the Kansas tribe. Yawn.
  • Kentucky: Named for the Kentucky river, from an Indian word for meadow. Which is silly because it's a river, not a meadow. Silly, I say.
  • Louisiana: After King Louis. Not to be confused with King Louie from Tail Spin by way of the Jungle Book. (Imagine the dude pitching the show Tail Spin. "Okay, it'll star Baloo the Bear and King Louie from Jungle Book, but Baloo will be a pilot and Louie will own a floating bar." "Brilliant!")
  • Maine: Might be named after the French province of the same name; might be named because it's the mainland; might be named for the English village of Broadmayne, hometown of the colony's founder.
  • Maryland: Named for Henrietta Maria, wife of English king Charles I.
  • Massachusetts:  From the Algonquian word Massachusett for big ol' hill.
  • Michigan: After Lake Michigan, from an Ottawa word meaning big ol' lake.
  • Minnesota: After the Minnesota river, from the Dakota word mnisota, meaning milky water.
  • Mississippi: After the river of the same name, from the Ojibwe or Algonquin word meaning big ol' river.
  • Missouri:  After the Missouri tribe, whose name comes from an Indian (Illinois or Algonquin, depending on who you ask) word for place with a bunch of boats. Approximately.
Look for Part II later, when I'm no longer sick of looking at my computer screen.

This Wikipedia article
Didn't actually use this bizarre YouTube video, but I thought I should share.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rongorongo: I swear I didn't make this up

Listening to a new fave podcast, PRI's The World in Words, I learned of a system of writing we've yet to decipher called Rongorongo. Take a minute to say it out loud. The word tastes fantastic.
Rongorongo is probably a language, apparently scholars aren't sure. It's a system of glyphs that appears totally unrelated to any other system of writing, and has been found only on Easter Island, aka Rapa Nui. The name rongorongo comes from the Rapanui word meaning chant out. This is short for kohau motu mo rongorongo, or "lines incised for chanting out."
There's not a lot of wood on the island, so this stuff was inscribed on whatever bits writers could get their hands on. Inscriptions were made with sharks' teeth and other implements. 
All of the samples that exist can be traced back at most a couple hundred years - the 1600s at the earliest, but by the 20th century, no one was left on the islands who could read or translate the glyphs. That no one was left isn't surprising - there were crazy wars and plagues going on in Easter Island Land back in the day, and there weren't many folks there to begin with.
By the time folks from off the island took an interest, most of the artifacts that contained the glyphs had been destroyed - since nobody could read them anymore, folks were using them as firewood, as spools for fishing line, and other stuff like that.



Rubbing from Mamari, an unfluted rosewood tablet

Aruku kurenga, fluted rosewood tablet


Reading about this got me thinking about Easter Island too. The place is teeny tiny, with a population to match. It's also super-remote. But there's Rongorongo, and then of course, there are the Moai. The Moai, also known as the Easter Island Heads, are thousands of years old, and what blows my mind about them is that nobody knows why a couple thousand people on a tiny remote island decided to start building them, or why they stopped. And now they're just out there - this singular, unique phenomenon, just floating out there in the world. Wild.


Info and photos from http://www.netaxs.com/~trance/fischer.html, Wikipedia, and The World in Words.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Go cry, emo kid

Once, a young friend asked if I was "totally emo" back in high school. Sadly, or perhaps not sadly for me, my high school days predated the emo classification.
Emo is a word with many definitions, and variations thereof. Emo as my friend used it refers to a sub-culture of white middle class kids who dress like mannequins escaped from Hot Topic display windows and spend all of their time being or trying to be depressed. According to one of UrbanDictionary.com's definitions, an emo is "like a goth, only much less dark and much more Harry Potter." I guess that would have described me back in high school, if Harry Potter had been written and goth had been mainstream.
Emo is also a euphemism that Kids These Days use to describe one who self-injures.
The term, according to Wictionary.org, traces its roots to emocore, short for emotional hardcore, hardcore punk music "characterized by melodic musicianship and expressive, often confessional lyrics," according to Wikipedia.
Which is interesting because emo music, as opposed to emotional hardcore, is a sort of whiny, affected, melodramatic affair, which one Urban Dictionary user defines as "punk music on estrogen." Which is kind of funny because most musicians who could be described as emo are dudes.
Which is funny, because whiny, affected, melodramatic punk rock on estrogen could easily describe the grunge rock I was so fond of in high school.
Maybe I was totally emo.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Born to Trouble

The Internet's all atwitter these days with tales of a new censored version of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which the 220 or so instances of the "n" word have been replaced with slave. Something about censorship or destroying the classics or something.
I know I'm supposed to have a strong opinion about this, but as it turns out, I'm strongly ambivalent. 
Huck Finn is one of the best American novels ever written, one of the best that ever will be written. Every page of Twain's masterpiece drips with anti-slavery sentiment, from the obvious to the thing that's one of my favorite parables of all time:
Okay, so my favorite scene in Huck Finn, because symbolism usually sails straight over my head, and I got this one all by my lonesome:
Jim's been captured by some farmers who are going to return him to the people who had him in slavery. They've got him chained up in a barn somewhere, and Huck wants to go in and save him. Huck runs into his friend Tom Sawyer, who say's he'll help. Huck's plan is to go into the barn and get Jim out, but Tom doesn't think that plan is flashy enough. He wants something big, something clever, and something that will raise a lot of feathers. And this whole insane scheme is going on, antics and hi jinks and stuff, Jim's life and freedom are in serious jeopardy. Tom and Huck are playing games with Jim's existence. 
How many freaking Tom Sawyers do you know? People who see the answers to social ills and instead of getting dirty and addressing them, want to come up with plans and schemes and Social Welfare Programs? Sure, there's something to be said for not going into a situation half-cocked, but Twain seems to me to be saying that there are some things that are just so wrong that they have to be fixed here and now and by whatever means necessary. Maybe he's just saying to screw the politics and all of that and just go get the slaves and help them get free because precious lives are being destroyed by the moment and we don't have time to play games.
Like it or not, the "n" word is part of what makes the book and the message strong. The visceral feeling you get every time you hear or read the word, that's how you're supposed to feel. You're supposed to feel the injustice of Jim's plight every time you run across the word. Or that's how I see it anyway. Maybe Twain was even thinking of the "n" word in the literal sense - the one that means "ignorant person," and juxtaposing that word with the reader's dawning realization that Jim isn't remotely ignorant or stupid. In the end, the book is intended to make a strong and in-your-face statement about oppression, and it does, and taking out the "n" words waters down one of the most effectively-worded arguments against injustice in American fiction.
Then again, there are still scenes in Schindler's List I'm not gonna watch. There are pages in Beloved I'm going to flip past. And that curb-stomping scene in American History X upsets me so much I'll never watch the movie again. Maybe if I want the option of reading the book without the words that hurt, whether they're meant to or not, maybe that's fair.
BUT, you know, it's only a matter of time before people start pressuring schools to use the sanitized version in place of the real one, and man, the greatest disservice you can do to kids is gloss over the atrocities of the past. Yep, that book upsets the hell out of kids and it always will. It should.


And something else that's been sanitized for your protection:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year

I trust you've all recovered from your celebrations. I myself overindulged - in dogs. There were legions of dogs at the party I went to, and I had the mother of all asthma attacks. I'm laying in bed, lungs collapsing, imagining wading through drunks at the ER and being certain I was going to start off the new year by suffocating. Mind you, it wasn't a serious asthma attack by any stretch, I'm just prone to histrionics. Lack of oxygen to the brain does not help the situation.
So anyway, I'll get to the point: the good old days. Which is one rough translation for the words auld lang syne
Auld Lang Syne was first written down by Robert Burns in 1788, although variations had existed for many years - Burns' reports that this is a folk song relayed to him by an old man. The version in original Scots goes like this, according to Wikipedia:


Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.


Which brings me to Scots. It's interesting - you'll notice that a bunch of the words above aren't so much English. I'd always thought that when I couldn't understand a Scotsman, it was because the accent is so thick and the speech so fast. In fact, Scots is more language than dialect, and is still spoken in many areas throughout the UK.
According to Wikipedia, however, it's hard to tell how many people speak Scots, because most people who speak it don't think of themselves as speaking something called Scots. They just speak. Most Scots speakers consider themselves to be speaking non-standard English. Wikipedia says this is because the line between language and dialect is really squishy, especially in this case. 

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