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There’s no doubt that in Somalia, crime pays—it’s about the only industry that does. There is even a functioning pirate stock exchange in Xarardheere, where locals buy “shares” in seventy-two individual pirate “companies” and get a respectable return if the company is successful. Most of the money, though, is frittered away. Boyah, who personally has made hundreds of thou- sands of dollars if not millions, asked me for cigarettes when I met him. When I asked what happened to all his cash, he explained: “When someone who never had money suddenly gets money, it just goes.” He also said that because of the extended network of relatives and clansmen, “it’s not like three people split a million bucks. It’s more like three hundred.” –“The Pirates are Winning!” Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Review of Books
All is true. In vast, impoverished cities like Bombay, Cairo, Jakarta, Rio, or Lagos, the plot lines of the nineteenth century proliferate. Not ignorant mass suffering, but the ordeal of sentient individuals who are daily exposed to a world of possibilities through a sheet of glass—satellite TV, the Internet—that keeps them out. The extreme conditions of megacity slums contain the extravagant material that animated Dickens. In the gap between what their inhabitants know and feel and what they can have lies all the poignancy of Hardy. –“Dickens in Lagos,” George Packer, Lapham’s Quarterly
Some terms are spectacularly creative and useful. “Ham sandwich!” is a “Holy crap!”-like exclamation that would fit well in the absurd world of Anchorman. We all probably know an “askhole”—the kind of person who asks a lot idiotic questions. A “Harlot Davidson” isn’t a female biker, but a woman in a long-distance relationship who blabs about that relationship at a party and then hooks up with another dude anyway. Then there’s “fubarose”—a mix of F-word-derived slang and chemistry jargon used by chem majors to mean an “impure carbohydrate mixture, an undesired product of sugar synthesis.” Though “fubarose” has a science-specific meaning, I wonder if the inventors of this word have accidentally found the building block of everything in the universe. If we’re all made of fubarose, that would explain a few things. –“Do you speak college slang,” Mark Peters, Good
More from Rafe Bartholomew:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”