Author: Isham Cook

Anglish and English: Why our language is 750 and not 1,500 years old

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Sample text of Anglish (Anglo-Saxon), circa AD 1000

How the English language arose is a captivating story with a great cast of characters, though they happen to be groups of people and texts rather individuals. It’s the story of a language emerging out of the mists, seemingly out of nowhere, before catching wind and taking over the planet as the first truly global language. It’s also a story that’s been told by many authors and scholars in different ways. And it increasingly appears that for the past 100 years most of those telling the story have gotten it mostly wrong.

The Celtic problem

Let’s begin at a starting point far enough back in time to take in the larger view, the situation of the British Isles some 2,000 years ago. The isles were populated by one or two million Britons, scattered throughout the land in hamlets or homesteads, who, the story goes, spoke various Celtic languages and dialects, about which there remains a fair amount of uncertainty since they never wrote their language down. It’s assumed the Celts crossed over from the Continent in successive waves over the previous several centuries, bringing a new version of their language each time. For instance, the hostile tribes known as the Picts who had been pushed up to northern Scotland by newly invading Celts may have spoken an earlier version of Celtic. Collectively the Celtic tongues spoken in Britain have been variously termed “Insular Celtic,” “Brittonic,” or simply “British,” to distinguish them from the Celtic spoken on the Continent.

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 10: New Gary, IN

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There was a deafening crack and the lights went out. Malmquist collapsed on the patio floor. Ray and the other customers were gone. Streetlight illumination revealed the premises to be empty and dilapidated and shrouded in dust. Malmquist sat up to get his bearings. Outside chatter suggested it was still early evening. He got up to explore the restaurant, and what he saw cautioned him to stay inside until well after midnight.

The city wrapped in silence but for incessant ambulance and fire-engine sirens, he emerged after jimmying open a window — the front and back entrances were padlocked shut — and headed down Lunt toward Sheridan Road on foot, for his bicycle was gone. He had barely crossed under the El track bridge when a man pulled up pointing an AK-47 at him through his car window. “You’re a fucking pedophile!”

“What did you call me?” He walked up to the car, grabbed the rifle out of the man’s hands and stuck the gun barrel down his throat. “If you don’t want your car interior to be soiled with brain matter, you’re going to do exactly what I say. Park the car in the fire-hydrant spot there. Nice and easy.”

Malmquist walked with the car as the man pulled into the space by the curb, the gun in his mouth. “Now, take off your clothes. And drop them behind you in the back seat. Start with your shoes and pants. Underwear too. Move your hands slowly or I shoot. Keep your T-shirt on.”

Malmquist got in the back seat, with the gun barrel now at the man’s neck. With his other hand he rummaged through the man’s pants and found the pockets empty. “Give me your watch.” He folded up the clothes into a bundle next to him. “Now, take Touhy over to 94 and head south down 90/94. We’re going to Indiana. Gary. New Gary.”

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 9: Zigaago

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Ray put a condom on the dildo built into her bicycle seat and lifted her tunic as she eased it into her. “Keeps me supple,” she winked. Tattooed around her hips and groin was a scrolling text of Chinese characters.

“What does it mean?”

“It’s a poem by China’s national poet, Gu Sing: ‘Through jagged rocks I walk towards the seashore. “I know all your languages. Speak!” The sea laughs and proffers up birds that swim, fish that fly, sand that sings.'”

“That reminds me. Can we take a short detour over to the peninsula? I want to see the rocks,” said Malmquist.

“Sure, no problem.”

From Sheridan Road they passed through the Northwestern University campus. They got off their bikes on a sliver of land extending out into the lake. The shore was lined with giant rocks laid out as a breakwater. Some slabs were flat and occupied by sunbathing Chinese students, by themselves or slave at hand. Most of the other rocks were jumbled and formed spaces and little caves.

“I used to play on these as a kid,” Malmquist said as he clambered over them. “They were all painted over and covered with graffiti, but it’s all gone now! No, wait. Here’s something I remember that’s still there, on the side of this rock. You can just make out the words. ‘Savor your sorrow like a fine red wine.’ It’s still there! Now I know we’re not in a simulacrum of the city. But why aren’t people painting on them anymore?”

They got back on their bikes and headed toward Chicago.

“Where are you taking me?”

“To start work,” said Ray. She looked at him slyly. “Now, would you tell me what’s really going on with you?”

An American talisman

shutterstock_98877740A talisman has appeared in 21st-century America, one with astounding magical powers. Fitting in the palm like a mini crystal ball, it can bring people to life on its screen. To young kids submerged in the dreamy developmental phase of childhood, this glass amulet must seem utterly bewitching and miraculous, a veritable Wonderland of miniature toy stores and colorful games. With parent’s permission, it can even send real toys and snacks to one’s very home. Then when they reach their early teens, kids begin adapting to the adult world of reality. The talisman soon becomes jaded and the magic fades. Still, it remains a fun, complex toy, capable of shooting videos and photos with incredible ease and realism, playing movies and music from an infinite list and packing more information at the fingertips than the city library.

If someone from the future had attempted to describe this mysterious thing to me back when I was a teenager in the 1970s, I would have found it pure science fiction and more or less incomprehensible. I refer of course to the smartphone, now the most mundane of objects. In the US, however, the smartphone has a very particular status and function. For American teenagers, and only American teenagers, the smartphone retains its magical and untamable powers — of the black magic variety. It is a scary, indeed terrifying object.

My problem with the atheists (it’s not what you think)

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Courtesy of Maddy (MadE14 on DeviantArt)

Group marriage does not look quite so terrible as the philistines, whose minds cannot get beyond brothels, imagine it to be.
— Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

Nothing need be said

Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, aka. the Marquis de Sade, has his first taste of prison at the age of 23 when he’s arrested for blasphemy after forcing a prostitute to hurl abuse at Christ. At 28, he lures a homeless woman to his chateau, where he binds and whips her and pours hot wax into the incisions he makes in her flesh with a knife; she escapes, and he does as well — from the police. He is never idle. While on the run he haunts the brothels of France. Five years later he organizes a sadomasochistic orgy with a bevy of prostitutes in Marseilles, one of whom almost dies after overdosing on the Spanish fly he’s forced down her throat. By this point the 32-year old aristocrat has become fodder of Continental proportions for the tabloid press (by then already a well-established industry). His wife’s family, also of nobility, secure a letter de cachet from the King to have Sade put away and save the family reputation. Sade manages to return to his chateau and seduce his wife’s younger sister, who flees with him to Italy. She returns early; he’s arrested in Sardinia but escapes from his prison and wends his way back to his chateau in France. Two years later he conspires with his wife to hire a series of unsuspecting female servants on whom to act out more sadomasochistic fantasies. The orgies and the cat-and-mouse game with the authorities drag on for several more years, until he is finally incarcerated for a lengthy prison stay with a freshly issued letter de cachet, at the age of 37.

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 8: Xinluoma

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Wang slapped him hard across the face. “How you lose your clothes?”

“Somebody stole it when I took a shower.”

“Nobody steal things here.”

“I’m telling you that’s what happened.”

She marched him naked back to the gift shop. He was able to find a tunic with the same Italian as the last one, “La festa della streghe in mutande.” She paid for it and he slipped it back on. It now read:

WITCHES UNDERWEAR PARTY

“Okay, good. In working order.”

“I take you to my house now. I hope you better at massage, after first day training. You show me your progress tonight.”

The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 7: New Gary, IN

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“Mr. Malmquist, I’m Inspector Melynchuk. And this is Sergeant Fink. I believe you’re already familiar with Officers Carrot and Stick.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Nice to see you again,” said Carrot.

Stick gave the table a gentle bang with his fist and grinned at Malmquist.

“I can see you’ve been battered up a bit,” Melynchuk continued. “Sorry about all this. Apparently there have been misunderstandings.”

“You seem different, not like everyone else.”

“I’m everyone else?” said Fink.

“Don’t tell me you two are androids as well.”

“No. We’re here to put a more human face on things. Can you try to recall again where you were just before your first time in New Gary?”