Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Wednesday, June 10, 2021

Something called Global Language Monitor has been keeping count of the number of words in the English language, and has declared “Web 2.0″ to be the 1-millionth addition to the lexicon.

Not without rock ‘em, sock ‘em linguistic controversy:

There are no set rules for such a count as there is no certified arbiter of what constitutes a legitimate English word and classifying the language is complicated by the number of compound words, verbs and obsolete terms.

“I think it’s pure fraud… It’s not bad science. It’s nonsense,” Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguistics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, told reporters.

Paul JJ Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor, brushed off the criticism, saying his method was technically sound.

“If you want to count the stars in the sky, you have to define what a star is first and then count. Our criteria is quite plain and if you follow those criteria you can count words. Most academics say what we are doing is very valuable,” said Payack.

Really, “most academics”? Are those the same academics who concurred with the American Dialect Society’s declaration of “plutoed” as 2006 Word of the Year, based on absolutely no general usage at all? And let me point out that, three years later, I’ve yet to hear anyone use the term “plutoed”. Even though “Web 2.0″ is an accepted buzzword, I’m gonna regard its “official” million-count as just as meaningless.

Who knew the field of wordsmithing was so rife with scam jobs? And toward what end — using tongue-twisting acrobatics to scam people out of their bank account information? I can’t believe it’s particularly lucrative.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 06/10/2021 07:58:28 PM
Category: Internet, Wordsmithing
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On the strength of my blog mention of the author back in December, Brooklyn’s own Soft Skull Press tapped me to do a brief review of Michael Muhammad Knight’s new novel, “Osama Van Halen”. Thanks to publicity assistant Carrie Dieringer for reaching out and sending me the review copy.

“Osama Van Halen” is presented as a follow-up to Knight’s debut effort, “The Taqwacores”. While the themes and attitude regarding identity crisis for young Westernized Muslims are prominent in the new book, Knight goes a step further with a strong autobiographical angle: The real heart of “Osama” delves into the author’s struggles to reconcile his own feelings as a convert to Islam, on both the cultural and ethnic levels. There’s no attempt to mask this aim, as Knight injects himself into the main narrative, integrally interacting with his fictional characters; again, this is a next-step move, since in “Taqwacores”, he created a conventional fictional character to stand-in for himself.

Inasmuch as this is Knight’s story, presenting it as an absurdist novel often comes across as unnecessary giftwrapping. As entertaining as the postmodern punk-rock landscape here is, with Muslim zombies and Qur’an-derived superpower-granting spells keeping things lively, Knight falls back often enough on undisguised personal memoir — in particular, with the “F. Scott Fitzgerald vs. Five Desi Girls” chapter — that the read becomes too bumpy. When Knight’s character is finally confronted over his inner conflicts, the dramatic sword-tipped resolution is almost expected, and the exchange with avenging angel Rabeya veers toward straw-man argument.

The individual chapters in “Osama” feel more like separate short stories, so I wonder if this book wasn’t strung together, with a grafted-on thin narrative, to achieve that. That’s definitely the case with the book’s marketing, which focuses solely upon a single, inconsequential subplot (a revenge-fantasy kidnapping of Matt Damon). If so, I think it would have worked better as a collection of shorts, interconnected only by appearances by Knight the character and Amazing Ayyub, his radical Job-like doppelganger. The flow would have been much less forced.

That said, Knight’s depiction of American Muslim youth culture is pretty compelling. The melding of pop-rock-punk subculture with tradition-rooted religion plays out in an enlightening way. Knight’s actually at his best when he taps into this raw scene and reveals it, complete with contradictions and compromises. Even the fantasy magical-realism sequences centered around Amazing Ayyub play out pretty strongly when they’re allowed to fully take over the narrative.

I found myself being reminded of Jonathan Lethem, in terms of voice, while reading “Osama”. In particular, I detected some parallels with Lethem’s “The Fortress of Solitude”, at least in the recollection of childhood and spiritual development. Maybe it was also the superpowers featured in both books — along with invisibility, Knight throws in a mention of human flight, which may or may not be a veiled reference to plot elements from “Solitude”.

And of course, I have to take note of the New York State backdrop for much of “Osama”. While the setting is far-flung Buffalo (the same as Knight’s real-world home base), there’s a semi-cryptic mention of my own upstate hometown, Newburgh, toward the end. That’s all the more jarring considering the recent “Newburgh Four” synagogue-bombing terror plot, and Knight’s own afterword addressing another, unsettling life-imitates-art event from this book.

Overall, “Osama” is a raucous read, with an energy that overcomes a questionable plot structure. The author has plenty to say, and even if he felt the need to divide it between himself and a fictionalized version of himself, it’s worth taking all in.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 06/10/2021 12:12:36 PM
Category: Book Review, New Yorkin', Pop Culture, Society
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