October 15th, 2003


The leftist movement

"The coracle whirled round, clockwise, then widdershins" - Anthony Bailey

Out of curiosity I decided to look up widdershins - not the meaning, I knew that, counterclockwise - but the etymology. Where'd it come from?

Dictionary.com says, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, that it is from the Middle Low German weddersinnes, which is from the Middle High German widersinnes, which is derived from the Old High German words wider (or widar) - meaning back, and sinnes, meaning "in the direction of", from sin, or "direction".

I couldn't quite figure how "backwards" got turned into counterclockwise - I could see a relationship but I wanted more, so I kept digging. (Mayhaps that was just my own ignorance; looking widar back it makes sense but hindsight, 20/20, well, you know.)

I found a great source online - the Online Etymology Dictionary, which stated widdershins was actually from the Scottish, and it was from the words withers and sinni (meaning "way").

Withers I was familiar with - it's the back or shoulders of a horse. So did it just mean back? Well, according once again to the site: "probably from a dialectal survival of O.E. wi�er "against, contrary, opposite" (see with) + plural suffix. Possibly so called because the withers are the parts of the animal that oppose the load."

Ah hah! So it actually doesn't refer to backs per se but opposing - or, say, by extension, being contrary. And, well, we all know that back then being right-handed was only sane and proper, right? Being left hand was a sign of something being wrong - look at words like sinister, gauche, all words with negative meanings that basically mean "left handed". The "bend sinister" is a heraldric term referring to a stripe that passes from the upper-right to the lower-left corners of the shield (or whatever heraldric device is being used, I suppose). Gauche itself is from the french word for "left", and now means awkward, or clumsy, or tactless.

So what it boils down to, more or less, is simply an opposing or counter-turn - in other words, a counter-clockwise turn. Ta da!

Anyways, next time you're stopped on a woodland path by a figure wreath'd in ivy who recommends that you turn thrice widdershins, you'll know exactly where it came from. Not that it'll help you much, but there you go.

P.S. If anyone has any more details, or cares to correct any inaccuracies, go for it! I'd love for someone to settle the Scottish/German issue above - the languages don't have a common root as far as I know, so how a word could claim to be derived from both seems odd to me. I'm sure there are other things wrong with it as well, I only spent a few minutes digging around online and likely missed some important parts.

P.P.S. Some interesting, related links for your surfing enjoyment:

- Xah's list of similar English words
- The Schrapnel Papers - Call me Gonzo!
- Embracing the moon - a forum discussion on widdershins vs. deosil (deasil)
- The Online Etymology Dictionary
- Good old Dictionary.com
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Celluloid Skyline

Thanks to MUG, I just found a really great website, filled with images of New York taken as reference photos by Hollywood, stretching from 1930-1975. The photos are annotated, some of them scroll (so you can see more to the left or right), some have buttons you can click to make them shift from day to night. It's a wonderful selection, though, and seems like a really nifty site.

Check it out: Celluloid Skyline

Stupid human tricks

First off, the funny stuff.

Thief steals tracking device:

Identity thief steals sex-offender's identity

Now, the scary stuff.

Kinko's internet terminals compromised:

ATM machines rigged to steal cards/pin numbers:

Links all taken from the CRYPTO-GRAM newsletter.

On a roll

Well, despite some bad news, today's been a really good day. I had a very nice lunch with my brother, and went to see Mystic River with ebess tonight.

Mystic River was an interesting movie - it featured a really amazing performance by Sean Penn, some solid performances from the rest of the crew, and some rather mediocre directing and some terrible editing from Clint Eastwood and his crew. This was probably aided by the fact that the cinematography was done by someone who has very little experience doing it - I'm inclined to say that his experience doing gaffer and lighting work just don't qualify him as a cinematographer.

Anyways, the movie itself was certainly worth seeing, and pretty solid overall, despite its weaknesses. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I'll say that the story's decent and the script is passable. (There, I didn't reveal anything!)

The acting varies depending on the actor; Sean Penn was incredibly intense, as usual. You may like him or hate him, but you can't deny he throws every single fiber of his being into the roles he plays. The screen practically crackles when he steps onto it, and he unleashes himself with a force that you very, very rarely see up there.

Tim Robbins was overrated as usual; I have yet to see him in a role that impressed me. He's like Toby Maguire - he's got a few popular expressions that everyone loves to see him put on, and he puts them on like a pro, but there's nothing behind them. His performances feel hollow. (Toby's much worse, but it's a similar feeling with each of them.) I know I'm one of the few people that actually think that, but whatever.

Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne had passable performances; I think both are capable of better, but I have doubts as to whether either is actually a really good actor - I think both are decent actors who turned in yet another decent job.

Marcia Gay Harden was very solid in her role, although it wasn't a particularly appealing character. That's not her fault, though. Laura Linney was pretty good as well, I suppose, although her character was even less appealing. Neither had very large roles, so there wasn't much of a chance for them to shine. Actually now that I think about it, the entire movie was very heavily skewed towards men - the main characters were all men, boys, or somewhere in between - the women felt almost like an afterthought, window dressing to make the movie seem more complete.

There were a lot of child/teen actors in the movie, and their performances also varied a lot. I thought Tom Guiry was pretty good as Brendan, and the two kids who played his brother and brother's friend were decent. The other kids were sort of questionable, though, which was made even worse because they had small - but pivotal - roles. The child versions of the three stars (Penn, Robbins, Bacon) were especially disappointing and didn't even look like the adult actors, not even in the "well, maybe he could've grown into that..." way. Their builds, coloration, facial structure, it was all wrong. AND they weren't particularly good - so it wasn't as if their performances made up for the fact that they looked wrong.

Overall, though, I have to say I was underwhelmed. Sean Penn's performance was so intense as to nearly carry the entire film on its own, but it couldn't hide the fact that the other parts of the movie were rather lackluster. The visuals weren't great, and the cuts were disturbing (not in a good way, just in a poorly executed way). The story was decent, but I felt had some pointless details and subplots thrown in, and ended up skimping on some more important points that could've stood to be filled in more. It tried to be overly clever, and wasn't quite sure if it was a psychological study, a relationship-based drama, or a murder mystery. It's possible to do all of the above well, but it ended up feeling like it didn't do any of them all that well.

Having said that, there's enough potential and raw material there for it to still have quite an impact, and I did enjoy it, despite my complaints. It tackles a VERY emotional subject (child abuse and its long term impact), and tackles it in a powerful way. In the end, though, I felt disappointed - a topic that cuts so close for me (not that I was abused, nor were my children, but as a parent I of course am always worried about the potential for it to happen) could've left me an utter mess if done well, but Clint Eastwood didn't seem capable of delivering a really solid body blow with it - it should have left me shaken and disturbed and powerfully affected, but the only scenes that really got to me were the ones where Sean Penn was letting it out. I get the impression, though, that Sean Penn could carry a whole lot of powerful, difficult subjects single-handedly, and he more or less does that in this case.

Anyways. Go see it, I'm curious to hear what other people thought of it. Personally, I don't think it's nearly good enough to be the best film of the year, as many critics are calling it, but I do think Sean Penn's performance may be the best of the year (so far).
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