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Will "scifantasy" Frank said on September 7th, 2010 at 9:16 am

I was so sure you were going to quote James Nicoll in your paragraph about the flexibility of the English language.

(I’m sure you know the line, but just in case: “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”)

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Will "scifantasy" Frank said on September 7th, 2010 at 9:21 am

And, wait–prevent Shakespeare from doing his most vital work?

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Polychrome said on September 7th, 2010 at 9:40 am

Unreal, assassination and dauntless are inflections of existing words and would probably have been developed by somebody else.

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Tales to Enrage said on September 7th, 2010 at 10:33 am

Then there’s the fact that just because Shakespeare wrote so many plays and poems doesn’t mean that’s all he did in the Marvel timeline. Maybe it’s even more complicated than Strange though, and he doesn’t just have to figure out what was done to Shakespeare-he has to figure out what Shakespeare himself is doing, maybe instead of writing the plays he was going to do originally. For example, if he was tasked to pick up where Marlowe left off when he was killed…

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scarecrowprophet said on September 7th, 2010 at 10:45 am

Everything is better with John Dee. Bonus points for inclusion of Walshingham and some reference to the death of Marlowe, though?

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MarvinAndroid said on September 7th, 2010 at 11:23 am

Unfortunately for your post title, the Decemberists desperately wish they were Victorian, not Elizabethan.

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Screw Dr Strange, this would make an cracking episode of Dr WHo…

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LashLightning said on September 7th, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Please tell me that you’re actually trying to go through the whole process of paying your dues so that you can actually write all these Doctor Strange stories one day?

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Write this one. For the love of all that’s holy, write this one. With or without Strange, with or without Doctor Who, as a fanfic, a short story, a novel, what the fuck ever, I WANT TO KNOW HOW THIS ENDS YOU BASTARD.

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To be subtitled: “The Great Sapir-Worf Caper”

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And English differs from most languages in that it is completely and utterly an expressive language.

Can you explain what you mean by that?

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Very good.

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There’s a reason it’s become so dominant: it’s easier to invent words in English, as well as steal them, repurpose them, mix their use.

Really. It has nothing to do with English-speaking countries like UK and America being economic superpowers, the effects of rampant colonialism and imperialism, the exportation of American mass media to other countries, etc.? It’s because you can invent new words in English? Good thing you can’t do that in other languages, then, or we might all be speaking Japanese!

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Who would want Shakespeare dead?

I’ve narrowed the list of suspects to these three:
1) Voltaire
2) Cervantes
3) Sir Walter Scott, who has a gun

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Cookie McCool said on September 7th, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Suck it, Shakespeare! I killed you because of 10th grade Brit Lit!

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Really. It has nothing to do with English-speaking countries like UK and America being economic superpowers, the effects of rampant colonialism and imperialism, the exportation of American mass media to other countries, etc.?

No, it really doesn’t. There are about a million words in English, six hundred thousand if you strike out the technical stuff. French, in comparison, has about one hundred thousand. Japanese has between one and two. Both languages had their period of regional ascendancy (I mean, come on, French was basically the common tongue in Europe for, what, five or six hundred years?) but they didn’t grow the way English did.

English is more adaptive and more descriptive than just about any other language. Linguists in the audience will back me up on this. Go read Bill Bryson’s books on English if you want a good grounding on how English has grown and how it differs from most other languages; they’re good reads, informative without being unreadably wonkish.

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@Skemono-

Which languages end up dominant on the international stage can be somewhat more complex than who has the biggest club, or even who the most active is. For example, French was the lingua franca (and that’s a generic term, by the way; the franca has nothing to do with France except tangentially) of Europe and its colonies for something like three hundred years. When an English sea-captain and a Portugese trading factor met to discuss the price of silk in Macao, they spoke in French. When the various multi-national alliances met together to try and take down Napolean, they haggled… in french.

Heck, it goes back even further. Geoffrey Chaucer was exorted by a number of his friends to put down his works in french, ‘for the ages!’ rather than write in the crude vernacular. And THAT was in a time when England still ruled large parts of France.

This despite France never being the undisputed grand power of Europe, and their language not being the preferred tongue (Latin) of the most powerful social institution at the time (the Church) and never being the big dog in the trading or colonialism game.

I certainly think the rise of English as the international language of commerce, diplomacy, and engineering (sidebar; in its internal language, engineering uses the metric system, despite England adopting that within living memory and America adopting it, um, never. Our hegemony hasn’t had much influence there) has SOMETHING to do with the economic, military, and political influence of english-speaking countries. But that doesn’t have to be the entire reason or even the major reason, and MGKs postulate passes enough of the smell test to be legitimate for building a story around.

And even if it didn’t, you could excise it simply enough; you ignore WHY english is so dominate today and simply focus on the fact that it IS. If German had a similar position the hypothetical time-meddlers would be going back to mess with that.

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Mary Warner said on September 7th, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Don’t most linguists say that Shakespeare didn’t invent a lot of these words? He was just the first to include them in published works. It’s certain he invented some, but it’s difficult to know for sure which.
And as long as you’re on the subject of casting spells with the English language, has it ever been explained why Strange’s spells usually have to rhyme?

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Holy DAMN, but your ideas rule.

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Stephen Strange. William Shakespeare. John Dee. Fuck yes.

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@Mary

The rhyming probably has something to do with rhythmic invocations. Thought patterns are waves so it would stand to reason that it’s easier to match a thought pattern to a rhythmic vocal pattern as opposed to a constantly flowing one.

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Technically, it doesn’t really matter if Shakespeare invented the words or not, so long as you can make an argument that he popularized them. It doesn’t matter if words exist if no one ever uses them.

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Dilettante said on September 7th, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Re: unique features of English. Far too many amateur linguists have already debated whether there’s anything special about English that makes it the current no. 1, or whether it’s only an outgrowth of UK/US dominance.

The debate is not particularly helpful – the upshot is that there are unusual features about English, but/and also certain features probably help a language achieve mass adoption. Very different languages have ended up being adopted by large groups: Latin, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, French, Spanish, English. This suggests that people can learn a wide range of languages if the incentive is there.

However, one point about English is that it evolves very quickly (compared to the other European languages, Germanic or Romance or other). It also easily snatches freely from other languages, as MGK notes. This comes from two sources: i) its own roots as a hybrid tongue, and ii) its use over centuries as a language of sea travelers, traders, explorers and colonizers. Thus English is really dynamic & useful. Quick to learn but tough to master; full of cheap slang but also a more extensive vocabulary than any other language. A haven for broken grammar and pidgin variations, but also a complex tongue for scholars and academics. It’s very, very flexible, allowing lots of different uses.

So, MGK may be overstating the mark to say that English’s unique character explains its preeminent modern role, but that character is probably _part_ of the reason, and its quite fair to refer to English as a very expressive language. (It’s also a more illogical language than many, but that the price for a certain kind of complexity. We’d lose a lot of puns & sometimes useful ambiguity if we cleaned it up.)

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Enlight_Bystand said on September 7th, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Mary; as other have said, the fact that he didn’t invent them, he put them in a bit of published work that has lasted. The story element will still work (MGK was probably being efficient in saying invented rather than ‘possibly invented but also reasonably likely to just have popularised’

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I second what Dani said. WRITE THIS.

Seriously, if you have to go to an independent publisher rather than one of the Big Two, do it. These ideas are amazing!

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didn’t Doctor Who already meet Shakespere?
and yes – WRITE THIS. WRITE IT NOW
or soon. or whatever
reminds me of a cheap pulp called ‘Poe Must Die’ about EA Poe and necromancers

but more highbrow. and awesome

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“didn’t Doctor Who already meet Shakespere?”

So did Blackadder. Maybe Strange has to stop Edmund from punching out old Will.

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As someone who’s been a Shakespeare fan for most of her life (complete with a slightly-awkward-crush phase in her teens), all I can say to this is: Hell Yes.
…Unless the bad guy’s Marlowe*, because then I will weep bitter, bitter tears.
*unless it’s Marlowe under the control/influence of Mephistopheles, because then we’re back on the Hell Yes track.

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I’ll add my voice to the chorus. This should definitely get the proper writing treatment, beyond the ideas sketched out here. Same goes for the rest of the Dr. Strange story ideas. Find an artist with the appropriate style, find an independent publisher, and get it out there.

Alls ya need to do is change enough specific information where needed to avoid copyright issues with Marvel, and otherwise let the readers figure out for themselves that it’s really supposed to be Dr. Strange. Hell, people have been writing Superman analogues for decades without ever trying to hide the fact (OK, mostly Alan Moore), and some have proven quite popular and long lived. I say go for it.

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yeah!
hell if you use John Dee as your Strange analogue you could have this be the first issue – the action in the present sets up the time travel/flashbacks to Dee’s time

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> MGK

The “million-words” thing has been repeatedly debunked. See [url=http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002809.html]here[url] for example.

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Happy Clam said on September 8th, 2010 at 6:57 am

I’ve never read an issue of Strange and I’m not normally terribly gripped by your “I Shoud Write…” series (which is cool, it’s not FOR me), but this idea is both instantly compelling and potentially very clever.

Add me to the chorus of those who’d like to see this worked into something richer and stranger than a blog post. Bonus points if nobody except Strange gets to use any Shakespearean words for the duration of the story.

As a side note to this dispute over linguistic technicalities, I’d say that the biggest flaw in your writing which I’ve read, MGK, is the tendency to over-explain. This is unfortunately compounded by the way you present interesting personal opinion as established fact. Your posts about the failure of protest, while interesting, really rubbed me up the wrong way by doing that. Which is fine, you don’t have to write to please Anonymous Internet Man, just something I thought you might be interested in getting feedback on.

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Empires of the Word is a book that does an excellent job showing how languages rise and fall (including Akkadian and Urdu in addition to some of the ones mentioned above).
I agree with everyone else: Cool idea.

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Sidebar to Murc’s sidebar: the American aircraft industry STILL uses inches and pounds. And “slugs” for mass. And “knots” (nautical miles per hour) to measure airspeed… For that matter, “knots” are used to measure airspeed everywhere.

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OK, so I’m not a cunning linguist, but I was startled to find that the “tangled web” quote is from Sir Walter Scott. I would have bet money on Midsummer Nights Dream, Puck or somebody.

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“it’s shocking to think that a man sat down and literally thought them from nothing.”

The reason that thought it shocking is, of course, because it isn’t remotely true. All of these words either already existed in historical context or in different languages. ‘Assassin’ comes from Arabic (Hashshashin) and was around from the times of the Crusades. Just because the word was used by Shakespeare doesn’t mean he ‘literally thought it up from nothing.’

That said, yes, of course it was literary genius to appropriate and Anglicize these types of words–it’s simply that very blunt phrase above that’s rubbing me raw.

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As a theatre major and a comic nerd, I simply bow to this post. Well done, sir. Well done indeed.

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@Tim-

No kidding. I did not know that. Is there a reason for it, or is it just to piss off Airbus? :)

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I think this is too good NOT to write. At least put out a short story about it or something… Doesn’t even have to have Strange in it.

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The #1 reason he should write Doctor Strange:

He’s not Brian Bendis.

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If Shakespeare invented ‘Moonbeam’, then Strange has GOT to call up Dead Girl, and not be able to remember her name.

I’m not the only one that remembers this, right?

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@Murc:

Not that I know of … It’s more that you’d have to change every airspeed indicator in the world at the same time if you were to go metric. (Because otherwise, ATC has no way of knowing which kind of indicator your airplane is using.) And retrain all the pilots to think in KPH instead of knots. And retrain all the air traffic controllers. And republish all the charts … although that gets done on a semi-regular basis anyway.

And somewhere in all of this, some damn fool is bound to try to fly his approach in knots when he should be flying KPH. This will not end well.

All around, everyone basically agreed that it’s better and safer to leave things as they are rather than change to metric.

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Inspired by this weeks’ Radio Lab?

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Andrew Jeanes said on September 10th, 2010 at 12:48 am

Knots are still a genuinely useful unit of measurement in aviation and marine context. A nautical mile is equal to a minute of latitude and since everybody continues to use degrees, minutes and seconds to locate points on the globe, using nautical miles per hour to measure distances between two such points makes sense.

I’ve never read Dr. Strange, but I love Shakespeare and I’m a big fan of the Elizabethan setting, so I’d very likely read this story if it were published in some form.

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Andrew Jeanes said on September 10th, 2010 at 12:50 am

Using knots to measure velocities between two points, I meant, not distances.

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@Andrew:

Entirely correct … I’d temporarily forgotten this.

For that matter, wasn’t the meter originally defined as 1/10,000,000th of the distance between the North Pole and the Equator? I seem to remember seeing that at some point, but I could be imagining things.

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Evil Midnight Lurker said on September 10th, 2010 at 5:48 pm

…If thou didst delete Shakespeare, Thor wouldst become MUTE! I say thee NAY!

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