Viking Etiquette and Household Hints

Posted in English Stew, General on November 15th, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

IKEA illustration FinishedLet’s solve a mystery. How can a club be both a social organization and a weapon? It actually is a case of mistaken identity that began in the Middle Ages. Old English and Old Norse are both Germanic languages. In addition to this lingual similarity, the Vikings could always make themselves understood. When a horde of warriors is sacking and slaughtering, you can usually interpret its mood and intent. One particular form of Viking expression was the “klubba”, a blunt, heavy weapon.

When a Viking wielded his club, his British victims felt a clump. In Old English “clump” literally meant lump or mass, but the word had several uses. It could refer to an accumulation or cluster of objects; in that context, we still refer to “a clump of dirt” or “a clump of trees.” Unfortunately, a clump could also describe the mass of wood in the Viking arsenal, or the lumps it caused. Since club and clump had similar sounds and overlapping definitions, the words eventually became confused and interchangeable. Clump acquired a heavy, creepy context, while a club could be an innocuous collection.

England in the late 17th century was a wonderful time for debauchery, and the diction was as lax as the morals. When people, bound by a common interest or vice, gathered together these associations now were called clubs. Three centuries later we’re stuck with that mistake. If there had only more regard for proper English, your insurance agent would be a member of the Rotary Clump.

II.  Another Gift from the Vikings

With their effusive nature, the Vikings gave our language such words as slaughter, wreck, kidnap and-of course-club. In rare instances, however, our Viking vocabulary does not pertain to a crime. Consider the word window. It is from the Old Norse term vindauga and means “wind eye.”

But how did vindauga become our prevalent word for a scenic hole in a wall?

Of course, modern Scandinavians are renowned for furniture, but their Viking ancestors never showed any flair for interior design. There was no medieval Ikea. The Viking expressed his aesthetics by what he stole. In the ninth century the Norsemen so enjoyed looting England that they decided to seize the entire country. They nearly succeeded, overrunning Northern and Eastern England. But for King Alfred rallying the English in a last-ditch battle (and earning himself “the Great”), today Lundholm might be the capital of Anglemark.

The Vikings had been thwarted but they still controlled almost half of England. They could enjoy it and settle down. The Vikings acquired English wives–often over the bodies of English husbands–and began to assimilate. With varying degrees of sincerity, they converted to Christianity. (Odin and Thor had let them down.) This domestication was aided by the similarity between Norse and Old English.

For instance, the Angle-Saxon lived in a hus, walked through a dor, over a flor and into a rum. The Viking then stormed that huis, kicked in a dyrr, stomped the florr and into a ruim. Translation was hardly needed. When there were distinct differences in the vocabularies, the Norse sometimes adopted the English word. The Vikings found the English weall easy to breach but irresistible to say. However, the Norse were not so accommodating over what to call the scenic hole in the weall.

The Angle-Saxon called it an eyethurl, which means “eye hole.” Perhaps the Norse found it difficult to pronounce or lacking in poetry. They insisted on calling the disputed aperture a windauga, and bullies do have a certain power of persuasion. Eastern England called it that, and western England probably thought it wasn’t worth a fight.

L’Affaire and Balanced

Posted in General, On This Day on October 15th, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

October 15, 1894: France Needs a Scapegoat

On this day in 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was arrested for espionage, accused of giving France’s military secrets to Germany. The charge itself seems incredible. What would the vastly superior German army learn from spying on the French.  Souffle recipes?  The Germans would have ruined them anyway by adding sausage and potatoes.

Dreyfus also happened to be innocent. However, the Army had reached its verdict before the court-martial, and any inconvenient contradictions–such as the evidence–were considered an insult to the image of the army.  Dreyfus had to be guilty, and the facts were irrelevant.   The Conservatives of the time were indignant that anyone would weight the innocence of one man (and a circumcised bourgeois at that) against the honor of the Army.

Here is the updated version of the reactionaries’ reactions:

Michael Medved: The skewed liberal perspective is missing the real story. This situation really is a compliment to the French Army. A Jew can be an officer! I am thrilled to know that. What a tribute to this country! Every Jewish boy in France can grow up to be a Captain Dreyfus!

Bill O’Reilly: What is Dreyfus’ problem? If he didn’t want to be a scapegoat, why is he Jewish? It is what these people are good at, that and violins. Talk about an easy job, for doing nothing, he is going to spend a few years at a tropical resort. You and I should be so lucky, but we have to work for a living.

Ann Coulter: Of course, Dreyfus is guilty. The army ordered him to be guilty and he refused. That is the definition of treason.

Donald Trump:  You can see the pattern.  Alfred, Alsace, alien, Allemagne, allied to the Ottoman Empire which worships Allah.  And what kind of name is Ottoman?  Otto is definitely German.  So Germany and the Ottoman Empire are actually the same country, and Alfred Dreyfus is really a Moslem.

Savaging Mr. Banks

Posted in General on September 17th, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment


I happen to have an available script…

Bert is killed in World War I. You’d think a chimney sweep would have more immunity to chlorine gas.  The widowed Mary Poppins tries losing herself in physical abandon and that does help D.H. Lawrence with his writer’s block.Exercising her long-sought right to vote, Mrs. Banks proudly marches to the polling place and contracts the Spanish Flu.  Mr. Banks will always blame Lloyd-George for her death.

Flying over London, Mary Poppins is shot down in the Battle of Britain.  The victorious pilot has an umbrella painted on his Messerschmitt.

Young Michael Banks goes to Cambridge and meets Guy Burgess. Michael is taken under Guy’s left wing…and other appendages. The least of Michael’s transformations is becoming a Soviet spy. He eventually defects and the shabby old pensioner in Moscow will drink himself to death.

Having gone through four husbands, three fortunes, and innumerable scandals, Jane Banks is now in a nursing home near Brighton. Among her escapades, she had affairs with both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; but who didn’t?  The Golden Flapper is said to be a literary inspiration for Evelyn Waugh and a medical one for Alexander Fleming.

Yes, the history may be a little sordid for Disney but perfect for HBO.  And there are other children’s classics worth a sequel.  How about John Le Carre’s “Wind in the Willows”?  Who is the Mole in MI6?

Happy New Year!

Posted in General on September 13th, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

According to the Jewish calendar, the world just had its birthday and is a sprightly 5777 years old.  Yes, God is lying about His age.  Of course, He might want to look younger than Bernie Sanders.  But it is more than just vanity.  God hates admitting mistakes: His first attempts at Chosen People.

The Trilobites proved to be such a disappointment; two hundred million years of just swimming.  The dinosaurs at least were entertaining–for the first 150 million years; but mutating into canaries was rather anticlimactic.  As for the Neanderthals, they just weren’t bright enough for 600 dietary laws–constantly mixing milk and mastodon.

Finally, some 5700 years ago, God posted Himself on J-Date:  “Deity, with undeniable quirks, interested in monogamous relationship.  Can’t promise you Heaven but how about some sand dunes on the Eastern Mediterranean?”

And we have been going steady ever since.

The 2015 Underture

Posted in General, On This Day on August 20th, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

On this day in 1882, “The 1812 Overture” premiered. So I asked the leading presidential candidates their opinions of the music and the history it commemorates.

Donald Trump: “I would have known how to conquer Russia. But I am not going to give you the details. Do you think that I want Putin to know?”

Jeb Bush: “So your smug older brother blithely invades a country for no good reason and without the least strategy…and you spend the rest of your life living it down. I know how exactly how Louis Bonaparte felt.”

Scott Walker: “We were fighting Britain, right?”

Ben Carson: “You can get AIDs from listening to Tchaikovsky, especially if you share phonograph needles.”

Hillary Clinton: “If you would like my critique of nineteenth century  international diplomacy, press 1. If you would like my assessment of Napoleon, press 2. If you want my fun perspective of Russian music, press 3.”

Bernie Sanders: “You know, my family was in Russia at the time. But we weren’t exactly hobnobbing with the Russian aristocracy at the premiere. The Tsar was more likely to invite us to a pogrom.”

O Tempora, O Morass

Posted in General on August 10th, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment


I am not that insignificant” whined an overlooked Chris Wallace. “I went to Harvard, I’m Mike Wallace’s son. I’m effortless to ridicule.”

“Trump could have said, ‘Nice hair color. Your father leave you his shoe polish?’ And when accused of switching parties, Trump could have turned to me and said, ‘Were you called Christopher at your Bar Mitzvah?’ People are still extorting my lunch money with that.”


Posted in General, On This Day on August 6th, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

August 6th: Feast Day of the Transfiguration. This has nothing to do with Caitlin Jenner.

However, on this day in 1538, the town of Bogota was founded without first being named Santiago. This unprecedented originality should have gotten Conquistador Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada burned at the stake. Upon retiring as a conquistador, he resumed his former career of treachery and pillaging: law. A none-too-Catholic attorney…the Inquisition sometimes missed the obvious.

Son of Obituary

Posted in General, On This Day on July 28th, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

On this day in 1540, Thomas Cromwell was beheaded.  It is gratifying when bad things happen to bad people.  Ironically, the ruthless politician was condemned for one of the few times when he was not thoroughly reprehensible.  Cromwell had connived the condemnation and death of Thomas More.  Technically, disagreeing with the King could be construed as treason; building a case based on rhetorical quibbles, Cromwell destroyed More.  Henry VIII was impressed with this peasant-stock lawyer and Cromwell rose in the bureaucratic firmament.

Ever obliging to the King’s desires, Cromwell then arranged a quick end to Henry’s second marriage.  Anne Boleyn was an ambitious shrew but being obnoxious was not a capital crime.  Cheating on the King was, and Cromwell had five men–including the queen’s brother– seized and tortured until one of them confessed to orgies with Mrs. Tudor.  All five were condemned to death and so was Anne Boleyn.  For his crimes, Cromwell became the King’s chief minister.

Unfortunately, in that capacity Cromwell started acting like a statesman instead of a hatchetman.  Envisioning an alliance of the Protestant princes of Europe, Cromwell encouraged the marriage of Henry to Anne of Cleves, a duchess of northern Germany.  Henry agreed–until he saw Anne.  Diplomacy made a marriage unavoidable, but Henry was furious and you know whom he blamed.  Cromwell was a dead man, but Henry–in his sociopathic way–had a code of honor.  He did not want to feel like an ingrate for Cromwell’s past services.  So he first elevated the minister to an earldom–and then had Cromwell condemned to death.

But good toadies are hard to find, and Henry began to miss Cromwell.  As a hint of apology, King allowed the Cromwell family to have some estates and granted the title of baron to his late minister’s son.  The fourth Baron Cromwell (the great-great grandson of Thomas) would fight for Charles I and be elevated to the Earldom of Ardglass.  Of course, the war did not end well for King Charles,  and the Earl of Ardglass had to make peace with the Parliamentary forces.    He got off with a fine;  having the last name of Cromwell did no harm.  Apparently Cousin Oliver had some influence.

Temple Fugit

Posted in General, On This Day on July 25th, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

And now with the appropriate fanfare of shofars—

According to the inexplicable Jewish calendar, tonight begins Tish B’Av, a time of mourning and avoidance of Italian food. On this day, both the First and the Second Temple were destroyed.

In 586 B.C.J.(Before Cousin Jesus) Iraq–alias Babylonia–really did have weapons of mass destruction, and they were used on Jerusalem. The First Temple, the one built by King Solomon, was leveled.

The Babylonians got their comeuppance from the Persians in 538 BCJ. Contrary to the Greek propaganda, the Persians were pretty nice guys and let their Jewish subjects rebuilt the Temple in 515 BCJ. This was the Second Temple.

It was nothing fancy. The Jews couldn’t afford much and there was that prohibition of graven images. Herodotus didn’t consider Jerusalem worth a visit; in fact, all he said of the province was that the people were obsessed with circumcision.

Persia was overthrown by Alexander; the Hellenistic kingdoms were conquered by the Romans, and the Jews remained obsessed with circumcision and the theology attached to it. Rome subcontracted Judea to a clever fiend named Herod. Trying both to impress his Roman masters and to ingratiate himself with his Jewish victims, Herod undertook a major expansion of the Second Temple in 19 BCJ. The wily ruler built the expanded structure in such a way that it could double as a fortress–in case the Jews were not that grateful to him.

Ironically, the Jews were very grateful and used the Temple for their last-stand in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD (Anno Domination). Of course, the Romans were neither tactful nor sentimental, so they destroyed the Second Temple too. The Arch of Titus in Rome commemorates the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish nation.

Gosh, I guess we didn’t take the hint.

Eugene and John Dillinger at the Movies

Posted in General, On This Day on July 22nd, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – 7 Comments

July 22, 1934:  John Dillinger Picks the Wrong Movie

John Dillinger thought that he looked like Clark Gable…and who was going to tell him otherwise?  So the notorious bankrobber was eager to see his twin’s latest film “Manhattan Melodrama.”  Gable portrayed a suave, charming racketeer; he apparently saw his resemblance to John Dillinger.  The film tells the story of Blackie Gallagher and Jim Wade, devoted friends since boyhood; one grows up to a lawyer and the other a criminal.  If you can’t tell the professions apart, a lawyer might have better diction.  The gangster Blackie even kills to protect his friend, and then Jim has to prosecute Blackie.  But Blackie doesn’t mind going to “the chair” if it helps his friend become governor.  And Blackie and Jim are in love with the same woman; but since she is Myrna Loy that is the one plausible part of the plot.

So, imagine seeing this film, then stepping out of the Biograph Theater and into a FBI shooting range.  Wouldn’t it have been more merciful to have shot him before he saw the film?  Better yet, the Feds could have taken him to a better movie.  If the condemned get last meals, why not last films?

What else was playing in 1934?  The best film of the year was “It Happened One Night”, a delightful comedy starring that Dillinger lookalike as well as Claudette Colbert.  The usually wholesome Miss Colbert could also be seen luring men and kingdoms to destruction in “Cleopatra.”  (It would be comparative to Sandra Bullock as the Temptress of the Nile.)  If Dillinger preferred to leave life with a song and a dance, he would want to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in “The Gay Divorcee.”  However, J. Edgar Hoover might have been touchy about that title.

Now, if Dillinger wanted to catch up on his reading, he could have gotten a little vicarious culture with “The Barretts of Wimpole Street.”  Fredric March, as Robert Browning, courts and rescues Norma Shearer (Miss Elizabeth Barrett) from her bullying and vaguely incestuous father Charles Laughton.  Mr. March was very cultured in 1934; he also was a Renaissance artist, lecher and gossip in “The Affairs of Cellini.”  (Cuckolding Frank Morgan wouldn’t be difficult–but it never seems right.)

But one film might have saved Dillinger’s life:  “Of Human Bondage.”  Seated in the theater, and withering in terror before the shrill, demented monster on the screen, the FBI agents would have realized that Dillinger wasn’t half as dangerous as Bette Davis.  They probably would have let him go with just a warning.