Zen Master

[For visitors new to English 109, “The Lost Horse” is a folktale in our class text.]

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s retelling ofThe Lost Horsein Charlie Wilson’s War:

Dialogue from Charlie Wilson’s War – 2007

In this scene Gust Avrakotos, an American case officer and Afghan Task Force Chief for the CIA is talking to Charlie Wilson, a Texas Congressman, about the successful conclusion of the first Afghan War in 1989.

Gust Avrakotos: There’s a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse… and everybody in the village says, “how wonderful. The boy got a horse” And the Zen master says, “we’ll see.” Two years later, the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, “How terrible.” And the Zen master says, “We’ll see.” Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight… except the boy can’t cause his leg’s all messed up. And everybody in the village says, “How wonderful.”

Charlie Wilson: Now the Zen master says, “We’ll see.”

Translating the fables

A very interesting problem is posed by the linguistic gender of the animals in Greek and Latin. Every Greek and Latin noun, including the names of animals, has a fixed linguistic gender which is either masculine or feminine. The Greek raven, korax, is always masculine, as is the Latin corvus, while the Greek weasel, gale, is always feminine, as is the Latin weasel, mustela. Yet sometimes the gender may be masculine in Greek and feminine in Latin, or vice versa. So, for example, the Greek frog, batrachos, is masculine while the Latin frog, rana, is feminine. In English, then, a fable that is translated from the Greek will refer to the frog as ‘he’ while a fable translated from Latin will refer to the frog as ‘she’. The same thing is also true of the eagle, one of the most common characters in the fables: the Greek eagle, aetos, is masculine, while the Latin eagle, Aquila, is feminine. This may cause some confusion at first, but by consulting the source for the fable, the reader can reassure himself (or herself) that the animal in question is not suffering from a gender-identity crisis—unless, of course, the animal is a hyena (see Fable 365).

Aesop’s Fables. Trans. Laura Gibbs. London: Oxford University Press, 2002. Kindle.

Find the dangler

As a stylist and magazine editor, the blog includes not just a daily outfit but also tips from friends and photos of industry-only events.

NYC Fashion Bloggers: 10 Blogs Worth Reading


Complete passage:

Christine of My Style Pill posts polished outfits with a vintage flair that make even fellow style bloggers swoon. As a stylist and magazine editor, the blog includes not just a daily outfit but also tips from friends and photos of industry-only events.

And see: Are danglers wrong?

S.R.’s excellent question

Today in class, S.R. asked the question that lies at the heart of nearly all college writing:

How is a thesis statement an “argument”? If your thesis statement is supposed to be true, then it’s not just your opinion.

In asking this question, S.R. honed in on the essential difference between college writing and “opinion” or “personal” writing. (Yay!)

In college we write argument (in most subjects) — but “argument” in the academic sense does not mean “personal opinion.”

“Argument” means something more like “informed opinion,” “educated opinion,”assertion,” or “claim.”

“Argument” means:

  • You believe that your thesis statement is true.*
  • You know that an intelligent person could disagree.
  • You don’t just believe that your thesis is true; you can present evidence and logic to show that it is true, and that is what you do in a college paper.

In short, an argument is a claim or assertion you can support with logic and evidence.

* In an English paper, you might say that your thesis is a “good interpretation” (or avalid interpretation”) as opposed to “true.” The word “true” tends to imply that there is only one ‘right answer,’ which isn’t the case when you are analyzing literary works.

Why grammar is hard

When I was in the 9th grade at Brooklyn Technical High School, my English teacher stood at the board and said, ‘Your textbook defines a verb as a word that describes an action or state of being.’ On the board she wrote:

A verb describes an action or state of being.

Next she wrote this sentence on the board:

Eating custard pie, Peter is a picture of happiness.

Then she called on me to identify the verb in the sentence.

It seemed clear to me that eating expresses an action, so I answered, ‘Eating.’

To my surprise the teacher said, ‘No, eating is not the verb.’

I protested, ‘But the book says a verb is an action word. Eating is an action.’

The teacher responded with what was to her an apparently clear explanation: ‘Yes, but eating is a participle, not the verb in this sentence.’

I had no idea what a participle was, but I began looking for another action word in the sentence—without success.

Sensing my frustration, the teacher offered a hint. ‘Remember that a verb can describe a state of being.’

State of being, I thought. What is a state of being?

Scanning the sentence to find a word expressing a state of being, I considered happiness. Happiness seemed to express a state of being. I figure that if I knew what a verb was, I would be in a state of happiness. Unsure but hopeful, I asked, “Is happiness the verb?”

‘No,’ came the judgment.

After another minute or so, the teacher answered her own question:

‘The verb in this sentence is is.’

But it didn’t matter. Grammar made no sense to me, and I dismissed it as something I would never understand.

Dennis Baron in Whimbey, Arthur and Linden, Myra J. Teaching and Learning Grammar: The Prototype-Construction Approach. Chicago: BGF Performance Systems, LLC, 2001. Print. (4-5).