Truth Universally Acknowledged

July 13, 2012

The Varieties of English

Filed under: Uncategorized — mboesl @ 9:04 am
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England and the US share a language, obviously. This means that an American can generally express his meaning and be understood by a Briton, and vice versa. What this does not mean is that all words are identical and all modes of expression employed by either side are quite transparent to the other. George Bernard Shaw once said the US and UK were, “two countries divided by a common language.” I’ll give some examples from my experiences and travels. In South Africa (a former british colony), you might ask for directions and get the following response: “Go up the street two blocks and turn right at the robot.” This naturally causes much bewilderment to the uninitiated, who, upon arriving at the correct location, look madly around for the robot that is such a conspicuous landmark. Of course, what South Africans universally call a “robot” is of course, a traffic light.


On the subject of Traffic lights, in Great Britain, the progression is different than in the US. Our lights go: Green-Yellow-Red-Green-Yellow-Red, meaning respectively, on the West Coast: “Go-Slow-Stop,” and on the East Coast: “Go-Go as fast as you can-It’s too late, keep going.” In the UK, though, the lights do this: Green-Yellow-Red-YELLOW-Green. As a runner, I usually start crossing streets on Yellow, if cars are far enough away, as red is guaranteed to follow. However, here, it is dangerous to rely only on that. You might end up in the middle of the street as a bus legally plows through the intersection. Dangerous business.

That was a bit of a digression. What this post is really concerned about is the way anglophone countries can speak the same language, and yet have no idea what the other person means. South Africa is another interesting case study here, in terms of how races were delineated under Apartheid and how they are still described. A full African is “black,” any mix of European and African is, “coloured,” and Europeans are “white.” Thus, it is not uncommon for people to refer to themselves and their heritage as “coloured,” though it sounds obscenely politically incorrect to us Americans and our post civil rights era.

So back to the UK. There are the well known ones. We say “Policeman,” they say “Bobby.” We say elevator, they say “lift.” We say “color,” they say, “colour.” Wrench vs. Spanner, Hood vs Bonnet, truck vs lorry, trunk vs boot, bathroom vs WC or Loo, President vs Queen etc etc. The list goes on and on.

Some of the most interesting and entertaining differences are found on street signs. Imaging pleasantly walking down a street in the States and seeing the following sign:


“Bollards!” Are these some kind of prehistoric animals bent on the destruction of pedestrians? Spirits of the deep on the order of Tolkein’s Ringwraiths, Rowling’s Deatheaters or Dicken’s Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future? No. Sadly, the truth is much more mundane. Bollards are simply short vertical posts used to restrict traffic in certain areas. We might say: “rising barriers” or something like that.

What about this?

Who knows what a Humped Zebra might do. Good thing they put up a caution sign. Sadly, again, there are no indigenous populations of humped zebras wandering through the misty fens and vales of modern day England. A Zebra Crossing is, we might say, a crosswalk. A hump is what we would call a “speed bump.” So all that is going on here is a crosswalk over a speed bump. I think I liked the original name better.

Finally, though this post could go on forever, we come to the most crucial distinction in all Anglo-American relations. A friend of mine went into a store and asked to buy “pants.” The shop owner looked at him a bit inquisitively and then directed him to the section of the store devoted to Union Jack boxers and briefs, asking in the politest way whether perhaps he had intended to ask for “trousers.” Trousers refer to what we call “pants” and pants refers to what we call “underwear,” if you are a man or child. For women, “bloomers” is the proper term for undergarments. You live and learn, I suppose. Always ask for trousers.

This reminds me of two little stories my grandmother used to tell. Upon arriving in the States, she spoke very little English, having just immigrated from Germany. One day, she decided to visit the store, in order to buy my grandfather a belt. Upon arriving, she realized she didn’t know the word “belt.” Unfortunately, in German, the word for belt is “Gürtel,” so my grandmother spent several trying minutes with the shopgirl explaining what her husband planned to do with a girdle.  The second story is a similar, but slightly more embarrassing, misunderstanding. A relative of my grandparents, also living in the States, had to go to the store to purchase a pillow. Sadly, the German word for pillow is “Kissin.” Armed with this knowledge, and a misplaced sense of hope, our tragic hero entered the store and bravely asked the shopgirl for “a Kissin'” She was obviously rather taken aback at the forwardness with which this gentleman had approached her. Seeing that his attempt had not acquired its desired aim, he once told the woman he needed a”kissin,'” showing with his hands the dimensions and such. Again, the message was confused. Finally, exasperated, he tried to illustrate one potential use of the pillow, by repeatedly slapping his rear end, all the while asking for a “kissin.'” This is my heritage. These stories are too perfect to make up.

Anyway, the moral of all this is that not all words in all languages are cognates, and not even all words in the same language are cognates. Keep this in mind the next time you are being chased by a rising bollard and have to stop for the humped zebra crossing: Pull up your trousers, and wait for the robot on the next corner.



July 9, 2012

Scotland and the North

Filed under: Uncategorized — mboesl @ 9:56 am

This past weekend, the programme I am with took a trip to Edinburgh. Now, if you know anything at all about Scotland, you know that it is green.

The fields are lush, the forests are lush, even the rocks and crags are lush. Green is, of course, a wonderful color, one that is perfect for a landscape painter or stoplight. However, as Kermit so poignantly sang, “It’s not that easy being green.” Which, of course, it isn’t at all. You see, it’s not that Nature looked down at Scotland and, bemused by their whimsical accents, amount of sheep and dedication to Scotch, decided to benevolently bless the land with beautiful verdant hues. No, the greenery is the result of something far more, tangible: lots and lots and lots of rain. Now, being from Oregon, I understand and appreciate the role of rain in the ecosystem (water cycle, etc). However, even I think that rain showing up in 50% of summer days is a bit excessive. And of course, while we were there, it rained. And rained.

However, the country was truly beautiful. The fog seems to lent the streets a certain aura, an ancientness, a sense of mystery. The streets are remarkably quiet, as if in a perpetual quiet before the storm. Edinburgh itself plays on this delicate balance of self aware drab and hidden magic. In the words of Samwise Gamgee’s description of the magic of the elves of Lothlorian, (Incidentally, he never, as far as I know, visited Edinburgh, though I’m sure he would have had much the same sentiment were he to do so): “It’s wonderfully quiet here. Nothing seems to be going on, nobody seems to want it to. If there’s any magic about, it’s right down deep, where I can’t lay my hands on it, in a manner of speaking.” (Actually, this last sentence pretty well captures the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, the magic of the place being so supremely subtle. You struggle to put a finger on the magic of the place, though you can put the most powerful piece of magic on your finger. But that’s a topic for another day and another, more qualified, author.) Back to the topic at hand, well, here are some pictures that illustrate what I mean:

Anyway, enough about the place, now a word or two about what we did. One of the highlights of the time was a ceilidh, a traditional Gaelic country dance experience. There was a live band, a caller, and the participants forming up in lines, octets, pairs, etc. Think square dancing with accordions and kilts. For those who have never country danced: a) You should. It is an awesome way to meet a lot of people in a short time, as well as super fun b) It is exhausting. Probably better than Zumba.

In addition to country dances, we had the chance to go on a hike in the countryside. I went to Killin, a small village near a large hill that overlooks Loch Tay. Unfortunately, we were unable to go all the way up the hill, due to the… rain, but we still got high enough to make it worthwhile. Getting down the muddy mountain, though, was where the true fun was to be found. Imagine 40 students clothed in ponchos carefully and cautiously making their way down a muddy slope, avoiding the combined hazards of nettles, thistles, slick mud, and sheep droppings. Most were fairly successful. Others decided the faster way down the mountain would include a bit of time spent sliding through the mud.

Which takes us to the end of this post. I hope you enjoy the pictures, and I’ll try to post more along with any other amusing anecdotes I can conjure up. Till then.

July 4, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — mboesl @ 8:43 am

Well, here I am, in Cambridge. The weather feels just like summer weather at home, a balmy 55 degrees and cloudy, with scattered rain showers. They sun seems reticent to shine down on the stunning gothic buildings, preferring to leave them covered by the clouds of time. Pembroke College, where I’m living, was founded in the austere year of 1347, a full 354 years before Yale was founded. The air of the ages hangs over the place. One imagines prime ministers, poets, journalists, particle physicists and nobles walking down the cobbled streets in their student days, before they were prime ministers, poets journalists, particle physicists and nobles. From Newton to Cranmer, Turing to Wilberforce and Pitt, Spurgeon to Watson and Crick, to all of them, Cambridge was a home at some point. The 31 colleges of the University vastly spread out through the city all have unique temperaments, designs and histories. Each college is an individual learning community, with professors, undergrads and graduate students all living and working in the same place. Of course, it being the long summer vacation, the sense of academia is less strong than it would be in term time. Classes go well, and life is easy. Tomorrow, we head to Edinburgh for several days, which should be wonderful. Anyway, back to the scones and tea. 

July 3, 2012

Some brief, tantalizing Cambridge Photos

Filed under: Uncategorized — mboesl @ 5:53 pm

The King’s College Chapel as the sun is setting.

And… the view out my window in Pembroke College:

More to Follow…

June 30, 2012

On to England

Filed under: Uncategorized — mboesl @ 3:36 pm

After a very busy and enjoyable 4 weeks at home, I am again on my way around the world. I’ll be spending 8 weeks at Cambridge, doing a study abroad program. I’ll be taking three courses during my time there. One goes by the title of “Spooks and Spies,” and is a history course on the 20th century British and American Intelligence communities. The second is on the Bloomsbury Group, I highly influential piece of 20th century British culture, including such notables as Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster and J.M. Keynes. The final course is an examination of Shakespeare, reading several of his plays. At this point though, I am more excited and prepared for the “abroad” part rather than the “study” part. This program includes a four day trip to Edinburgh and a day trip to London. I am very hopeful that I can work a weekend trip to Switzerland into my itinerary.

I’ll try to keep this updated with impressions and experiences of my time in the UK. Right now, I need to make my flight…



February 4, 2012

At long last

Filed under: Uncategorized — mboesl @ 7:11 pm

Here we are again, fresh off Groundhog’s Day, I’ve decided to begin putting my resolutions into effect. One of them, of course, is to write more on here. We’ll see. 

I suppose the first thing that ought to be said, the most pressing news around here, is that my suite is now fully equipped with nerf guns. Regular battles do occur, sometimes spilling out into the staircase as we madly try to defend ourselves from the onslaught of another person’s spewing barrel. The nerf gun proliferation happened in the follow way. My birthday was in December, and as a gesture of kindness, Matthew, my roommate, thought it would be nice to purchase me a nerf gun and darts. He, however, didn’t count on the effect that would have on a young man who never owned a projectile launching weapon in his childhood for the very valid reason that he would have probably inflicted serious harm on his two younger sisters. Regardless, the effect of this new weapon was instantaneous. I felt a new sense of power and control, a new way to exact my will on those around me. Observing the fun I was having, all my suitemates decided that they too, needed to equip themselves for the days ahead. So, if you walk into our room, first observe the layer of nerf darts that litter the floor, and second, duck. 

Another relatively important life event I ought to cover, was winter tour for the Winks. Our January saw us in Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. The locals complained that the weather was not normal for that time of year, with virtually snow on the ground. In addition to the concerts we performed at hometowns, we found time to have fun with other things. We went ice skating at the Petit ice center in Milwaukee, which is where the U.S. Olympic Speedskating team practices. It is certainly humbling to be staggering around while 5 and 6 year olds speed past you backwards. Also in Milwaukee, we went paintballing 


I think the picture (Courtesy of N. Dolquist), about sums it up. 

“What else do people in Milwaukee do?” We asked ourselves. “Drink Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, we answered. So, when we found an opportunity to tour the Pabst factory, we jumped on it. However (and this is a very big however), what we didn’t realize was that Pabst is actually now brewed by Miller and the old abandoned office buildings we were about to tour were (sort of) owned by a man who arrived 15 minutes late for our “tour.” The tour itself consisted of him showing us old commercials for Pabst, and taking us upstairs to see the old offices of the company. The offices would have been great but for the fact that they were missing sheetrock, etc and featured boxes with obtuse labels such as “electrical” and “Christmas.” We had a jolly old laugh after we left. 

Minneapolis was also stellar. We all played boot hockey (for those of you Oregonians to whom the concept of a frozen lake is foreign, boot hockey is sport played on the ice of a frozen lake that involves teams of three wielding hockey stick, a ball, two hockey goals and a fire. The fire is not strictly necessary, but it added a nice touch. 

I really wanted to go to John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist church, but it didn’t seem to work into our schedule, though we did drive by it. Instead, we went to the Mall of America, which is the largest Mall in North America and has something like 350 stores on four floors and hundreds of thousands of square feet. It features a theme park in the middle as well as a rather dirty atmosphere. 

That’s the quick scoop on Winter tour, and important information about the hazards of living in I-10. 

I’ll talk more about my classes, and the Winks brief excursion to Charlottesville next time. 

Hope this finds you all well! 

September 28, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — mboesl @ 10:05 pm

There are few things more important than the following news clip: New Haven now has an Apple Store! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, located a block from campus, this magnificent shrine to the wedding of technology and Steve Jobs features everything a macophile could hope or dream to enjoy. It is chock full of helpful employees, eager to encourage you how best to spend that hard earned cash, and shoppers, eager to fit in to the fashionable crowd with their new ipad, ipod touch and iphone. Some other lesser known products particularly suitable to the Yale crowd are iBlame (for those tough situations where you forgot to do a problem set), iMug (for wet, rainy evenings, like this one) and iX (in case of a title IX emergency). I can’t wait to go there for another iOpeningExperience.

Other developments: Fall is the retreat season. Exams come stunningly soon, and so it is a good opportunity for newly developed groups to take a break, procrastinate the work that will smack them in the face on Monday, and have a good time away from New Haven. As of this weekend, I will have been on three such retreats in as many weekends.

As summer rather rudely reverts to fall, with days of blistering humidity mitigated by days of utter downpour, Yale gradually assumes a more studious atmosphere. The nightly party so prevalent the first week of classes is nowhere to be found, the libraries are filling up and stress levels are slowly starting in increase as midterms that have only existed in the mind as theoretical propositions become grinding and sudden realities.

Here are a couple pictures from around campus as summer winds to an end. 



September 14, 2011

Framing Effect

Filed under: Uncategorized — mboesl @ 12:27 am

Eccentricities about around here. Take Michael Frame, my math professor. His 5’6″ frame is topped by a full grey beard that graces his neck down to the shirt collar. His black, thick rim glasses are the windows through which his kind, intelligent eyes peer at the equation he has just written on the board. His short sleeved collared button down is constantly tucked into his grey pants that ride just as high as possible and are dutifully secured by a black belt. Halfway through class, he interrupts the material with 3 carefully selected jokes from the Prairie Home Companion. He is known for ending the first day of class with the following line: “I just have to tell you. I have inoperable cancer, and I might not make it through the semester.” This line perfectly epitomizes both his morbid sense of humor and incredible drive to teach. Consider this quote that came up during a discussion of chemotherapy application: “Everyone in my family has cancer, but my brother and I got the worst of it. Well, actually, my mom’s dead, so I guess she got the worst of it.” A better math teacher I never have had. And he was one of the founders of fractal geometry.

September 9, 2011

Sophos kai moros

Filed under: Uncategorized — mboesl @ 11:40 pm

Back at School. What an interesting, mulit-faceted experience. There is the meeting of old friends, the making of new friends, the newness of campus competing with the old familiarity. The new perspective of a second-year. In high school, I really didn’t understand the roots of Sophomore. (soph- wise, moros- fool). Now, in college, I have a better idea. We are wise. We have been through a full year in college. We are tested and tried, and are back for more. We know where bathrooms, bookstores, and classrooms (mostly) are located. I looked over my schedule the morning before classes started and discovered that my German class was in a building ominously named 35 Broadway. Now I know Broadway street; it contains such academic institutions as American Apparel, North Face and J. Crew. Was my German class going to occur in the midst of women’s petite small flower print blouses and stylish leather footwear? The answer was a discouraging no. There happens to be a building located in a back alley that randomly houses classrooms and a writing center. Who knew?

We know how to work the Yale system to our advantage, how to complain about the dining halls and how to play Sporcle in class while still planning on doing well. We are unleashed, no Sophomore orientation, just a small card to fill out, and we are on our way. But at the same time, our uncertainties (my uncertainty) about the future grow steadily. What major should I pick? How will I know? Based on this uncertainty, what will I take this semester? And just when one has really gotten going on thinking about these problems, the dark ominous horizon looms in the distance: graduation. We are supposedly being prepared for an occupation, or some means of making a living. And most of us haven’t the foggiest clue what that will be. On the positives, I think sophmores are the humblest group of people. The high school superiority we wore at the beginning of our freshman year has been brutally scrubbed off, and we have not yet attained the height of rapture that is Senior year. No, we wait silently in our little purgatory, awaiting the day we will be something.

But we have a lot of fun waiting.

August 1, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — mboesl @ 5:54 pm

Yes, it has been a long hiatus. For those of you who have been faithfully checking up, I’m sorry. I ought to have posted more and kept the interest of the masses up. For those who gave up after a couple weeks: well done; you caught on.

Here are some statistics from the summer:

Flight distance from New Haven to Coos Bay Oregon: 2588 miles

Miles I travelled to get home (New Haven, London, Paris, Liege, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Munich, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Paris, Pheonix, San Diego, Sacramento, Salem, Boise, Seattle, Coos Bay): 16,664 miles


There is a strange phenomenon that occurs coming home. Having spent the last 10 weeks traveling around Europe with The Spizzwinks and Yale Glee Club and the American West Coast with Worldview Academy, my feeling at coming home was equivalent to an object in a moving vehicle that abruptly stops. It flies through the window. Now, lest you come to my house expecting shards of glass to litter the pavement, let me explain my little metaphor.

When life is moving by quickly, and you spend less than 4 days in a single country, sitting at home with no obligations, no schedule to observe and no immediate problems to solve is both wonderfully relaxing and unbelievably tiresome. It is impossible to fully return to home life, when I feel like I have changed so much, yet the dynamics of my family are very similar to what they were before, the local landscape is unchanged and the defunct lumber town I call my home has few additions beyond a couple store closings and openings. It’s a good challenge.

In an attempt to indemnify myself for not maintaining the blog, I will periodically post journal entries from my travels through the world in order to give you an idea of what I have been up to the last few months.

We’ll start in London:

Friday May, 13

Friday began with a really incredible breakfast in St. Ermin’s hotel. The hotel is a 4 star establishment that is letting us stay for free in exchange for our performances at a couple events they are doing over the next week. It’s a remarkable deal. The spread included lox and other meats, numerous jams and a good deal of really wonderful breads, muffins, croissants as well as excellent tea. We then hit the town, walking by Buckingham palace, (5 minutes from our hotel) a beautiful building rising above a sea of tourists eager to catch a glimpse of the guards with thei bright red jackets, tall black beaver hats and M-16s, the iconic picture of London. In front of Buckingham palace stands a massive monument to Queen Victoria, around which hundreds of motorcycles, cabs and private cars circle every hour. Boyd was very excited, as he was in a time of severe Royalanglophilia, exacerbated by a recent viewing of the royal wedding. It was all we could do to stop him from practicing his royal wave and continue with our walk through St. James’ Park, one of London’s many massive green spaces. In a certain part, there are hundreds of lawn chairs that can be rented by the hour. As we passed through the park we saw the Horse Guards Parade then began walking up the Thames, passing “Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre,” a reconstruction of the original Globe that holds performances that aim to be as accurate to the original mode as possible. There we bought 5 pound “groundling” tickets for As You Like It, playing several nights later. Immediately nearby is the Tate Modern Gallery, an old warehouse cum modern art museum. There are many fascinating works that span all kinds of emotions and methods, in most of which I failed to see any meaning. After spending an hour or so there, we returned to the hotel to prepare for our concert at the Lady Elenor Hollas school.  I had left my tux on a train the day before, and it had yet to be found, but I was still very hopeful. However, in the meantime, we decided to co-opt the Whiff “Turkey” position, where one member of the group wears an outlandish costume of some kind to the concert. This suggestion was very welcome to me and I sang my first concert in Europe in a white, fluffy bathrobe, white socks and a towel tied over my head in the most bathhouse fashion possible.

After arriving at the school, we had a brief masterclass where we ran Grace Kelly with the choir at the school. The choir director’s husband had arranged a part for the girls that fit in with what we were doing. It was really great. We then ate dinner at the school. Nothing particularly exciting to be found here, except for the pudding that finished off our meal. The concert was a smashing success, featuring many of the groups from the school as well as our own ninety minute set. So, for about two and a half hours, plus a reception, I was performing, selling cds and answering audience questions in a bathrobe and towel. The only difficulty was making sure the towel didn’t fall off my head. I am pretty sure I sang my solo with my head cocked at a 60° angle to prevent the white towel from rapidly vacating its position around my head. The crowd was overall rather confused, but the people who had the nerve to ask the source of the bathrobe were generally very sympathetic to my plight and understanding of the lengths to which I had been forced to go. A couple skeptically asked the question, “You do go to Yale, then?” Implying that surely a Yale student would be incapable to doing anything as stupid as forgetting his tux on a train. I assured them that, in fact, I did, and that even that was no guarantee on a life free from forgetfulness. My bathrobe attired self became, in the immortal words of Margaret Ashe, “The elephant in the room.” A compliment, I suppose, better than “Idiot in the Room.” For my part, I think we could achieve much more freedom in our performances if we were all attired in matching white bathrobes. But that’s just my opinion.

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