More on frolics and other language points

By James Fallows

I mentioned recently the odd use of the term "frolic" in the FAA's complaint about the pilots who "forgot" to land in Minneapolis, and also my friend Cullen Murphy's exercise in writing an entire article in "E-Prime," a form of English that excludes "is," "are," or any other form of the verb "to be."

Illuminating comments from readers on both points below: one in derogation of the skills of the FAA letter-writers, the other in praise of a writer who underwent a discipline much more demanding than E-Prime's.
 
About "frolic" in the FAA complaint:

"A comment about your discussion of the legal significance of the word "frolic":  The legal term is "frolic and detour,"  which refers to a case where an employee stops doing what he is being paid to do and goes somewhere (detour) to do something for himself (frolic).  A bus driver who turns off his route onto the street where his girlfriend lives would be committing a "frolic and detour."  The legal significance of this is that the employer would not be responsible for an accident caused by the bus driver while on the frolic and detour.  Ordinarily an employer is responsible for the negligence of an employee happening during the course of employment.  This is an exception to that rule, or, more precisely, it shows that the negligence did not happen during the course of employment in the first place.

"I do not believe that the concept of frolic and detour has any relevance to this case [of the pilots who "forgot" to land].  The pilot simply made a mistake and overflew his objective.  He did not intend to land elsewhere to visit his bookie or girlfriend.

"In my estimation, the FAA letter was written by a non-lawyer who had heard the legal phrase but did not really know what it meant.  The letter was neither unusually colorful, nor employing legal terms of art, but merely badly written."

And, about E-Prime and its variants, a pastiche of several emails I received from well-informed readers:

"I was interested to see your and Mr. Murphy's experiments with e-prime...  This is nothing when compared to Georges Perec who wrote a novel, "La Disparition" without using the letter "e." The novel was translated into English as "A Void" also without an "e." Perec was probably the most renowned member of the French literary group. Oulipo, which emphasized writing under artificial constraints - although Perec took the idea further than others. It is not as if he was a minor writer showing off to gain notoriety. His novel, "La Vie Mode D'Emploi", is one of the great works of 20th Century European literature. An updated translation of which has recently been released as "Life A Users Manual."

A picture of M. Perec below. After the jump, an extract of his e-less novel.
bl17-perec.jpg


A brief extract of La Disparition, from this site:

Anton Voyl n'arrivait pas à dormir. Il alluma. Son Jaz marquait minuit vingt. Il poussa un profond soupir, s'assit dans son lit, s'appuyant sur son polochon. Il prit un roman, il l'ouvrit, il lut; mais il n'y saisissait qu'un imbroglio confus, il butait à tout instant sur un mot dont il ignorait la signification.

Il abandonna son roman sur son lit. Il alla à son lavabo; il mouilla un gant qu'il passa sur son front, sur son cou.

Son pouls battait trop fort. Il avait chaud. Il ouvrit son vasistas, scruta la nuit. Il faisait doux.

Un bruit indistinct montait du faubourg. Un carillon, plus lourd qu'un glas, plus sourd qu'un tocsin, plus profond qu'un bourdon, non loin, sonna trois coups. Du canal Saint-Martin, un clapotis plaintif signalait un chaland qui passait.

Sur l'abattant du vasistas, un animal au thorax indigo, à l'aiguillon safran, ni un cafard, ni un charançon, mais plutôt un artison, s'avançait, traînant un brin d'alfa. Il s'approcha, voulant l'aplatir d'un coup vif, mais l'animal prit son vol, disparaissant dans la nuit avant qu'il ait pu l'assaillir.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2009/12/more-on-frolics-and-other-language-points/31793/