Cole Porter: Don’t fence me in

I always thought this was a cowboy song, knowing the version Roy Rogers sang sitting on his trusty horse, Trigger. But in fact the very singable Don’t fence me in was written in 1932 by the urbane jazz great Cole Porter. It’s not a “typical” Porter song – it uses a poem by an unknown Montana writer named Robert Fletcher – but it does have some of the playful language Cole Porter is known for: “let me straddle my old saddle” and “let me wander over yonder”. (Song history: Wikipedia.)

David Byrne (1990 for Red Hot + Blue)

Roy Rogers and Trigger (first recording 1944, in Hollywood Canteen)

Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (1944)

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze,
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in.

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies.
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise.

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can’t look at hovels and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in.

song of the week 🙂 englisch lernen mit liedern

Grammar Guru: Needless or needlessly?

Last week, 9 out of 11 chose “take a break” over “make a break”. In German “Let’s take a break” is “Machen wir doch mal eine Pause.” When pairs of words in different languages are very similar but have different meanings, they are called “false friends”. Similar collocations (or word partnerships) don’t always mean the same thing, either: We can “make a clean break“, e.g. at the end of a relationship, to keep things from getting messy when the love is gone (wörtl.: einen glatten Bruch machen, eindeutig Schluß machen). “Make” changes the meaning of the phrase completely.

This week, decide which two sentences are correct:

  • Many emails are needless.
  • Many emails are needlessly.
  • Many emails are written needless.
  • Many emails are written needlessly.

Asimov deconstructed

What Is Intelligence, Anyway?

by Isaac Asimov

What is intelligence, anyway? When I was in the army, I received the kind of aptitude test that all soldiers took and, against a normal of 100, scored 160. No one at the base had ever seen a figure like that, and for two hours they made a big fuss over me. (It didn’t mean anything. The next day I was still a buck private with KP – kitchen police – as my highest duty.)

All my life I’ve been registering scores like that, so that I have the complacent feeling that I’m highly intelligent, and I expect other people to think so too. Actually, though, don’t such scores simply mean that I am very good at answering the type of academic questions that are considered worthy of answers by people who make up the intelligence tests – people with intellectual bents similar to mine?

For instance, I had an auto-repair man once, who, on these intelligence tests, could not possibly have scored more than 80, by my estimate. I always took it for granted that I was far more intelligent than he was. Yet, when anything went wrong with my car I hastened to him with it, watched him anxiously as he explored its vitals, and listened to his pronouncements as though they were divine oracles – and he always fixed my car.

Well, then, suppose my auto-repair man devised questions for an intelligence test. Or suppose a carpenter did, or a farmer, or, indeed, almost anyone but an academician. By every one of those tests, I’d prove myself a moron, and I’d be a moron, too. In a world where I could not use my academic training and my verbal talents but had to do something intricate or hard, working with my hands, I would do poorly. My intelligence, then, is not absolute but is a function of the society I live in and of the fact that a small subsection of that society has managed to foist itself on the rest as an arbiter of such matters.

Consider my auto-repair man, again. He had a habit of telling me jokes whenever he saw me. One time he raised his head from under the automobile hood to say: “Doc, a deaf-and-mute guy went into a hardware store to ask for some nails. He put two fingers together on the counter and made hammering motions with the other hand. The clerk brought him a hammer. He shook his head and pointed to the two fingers he was hammering. The clerk brought him nails. He picked out the sizes he wanted, and left. Well, doc, the next guy who came in was a blind man. He wanted scissors. How do you suppose he asked for them?”

Indulgently, I lifted by right hand and made scissoring motions with my first two fingers. Whereupon my auto-repair man laughed raucously and said, “Why, you dumb jerk, he used his voice and asked for them.” Then he said smugly, “I’ve been trying that on all my customers today.” “Did you catch many?” I asked. “Quite a few,” he said, “but I knew for sure I’d catch you.” “Why is that?” I asked. “Because you’re so goddamned educated, doc, I knew you couldn’t be very smart.”

And I have an uneasy feeling he had something there.

I had the pleasure of reading this with my university students last week as an example of a definition essay. As we were working through it, it dawned on me that this little essay may be perfect for the classic TEFL essay in terms of its structure and length, but it also contains the core of the scientific method, from considering the issue in context and explaining its relevance, to venturing a hypothesis (“don’t they simply mean”), introducing the sample (“For instance”), running the experiment (“Well, then, suppose…”), presenting the results (“consider”) and sumarizing the successful outcome (“Because you’re so goddamned educated”). A gem.


Far, far away is a beautiful island
of enchanting lakes and green, dreaming pastures.
In other lands, the houses were lonely
or crowded or crippled or else could not breathe.
The birds heard their sighs, and flew to them crying:
‘Travel with us to the isle of contentment.’
Three little towers first had the courage
…..then two sad memorials
…..and a lone mountain church.
From the east and the west
they excitedly hurried,
cathedrals and palaces, manors and cottages…..
bravely they travelled
through dark, winding passes,
over vast, windswept gorges
and sun-beaten deserts
where people and furniture…..
…..were sometimes mislaid.
The heavier houses lingered and rested
while others on rivers
drifted down to the sea. Then, alas!
the wind whipped the waves
and the sea became strewn with
the wreckage of houses.
So some crossed by tunnel…..
…..and some by baloon…..
…..till they came one by one
to the Beautiful Island,
where at last the houses found
sunshine and peace.
There on the island
they can float on the rivers,
there are bowers for lovers
or nooks for the shy…..
and for the sun-weary
the shade of cool caverns…..
and dancing and happiness and

This is only the text of the marvelous collage novella that gave this blog its name. Meg Rutherford created splendid collages of old black and white prints. Miraculously, her book is still on the market. Published in hard cover in London by George Allen and Unwin Ltd in 1969.

From the blurb: “Comparable only with the work of Max Ernst and René Magritte, THE BEAUTIFUL ISLAND is an unparalleled adventure in the use of collage. A story? A poem? An idyll? An allegory? It is a joyful, wistful architectural fantasy that will, it is hoped, capture the hearts of artists and dreamers, adults and children.
Meg Rutherford was born in Australia in 1932 and came to London in 1958 to study at the Slade School of Art. Principally a sculptress, her work was first exhibited in 1961 and since then has been shown in many galleries …”

How I learned Latin… and French

Since I grew up bilingual in German and English, Latin was the first foreign language I learned. My dad taught me Latin when I was 5, using the Nature Method, a book of texts featuring a family with kids my age on up, talking about everyday life, with a brother beating up on his little sister etc. My dad read it to me just as I was becoming an avid reader myself, so I actually started reading Latin in addition to English and German. I cherished our Saturday mornings together, my weekly Latin lesson was when I had my dad all to myself. There was grammar, too, at the end of each story, and I liked being able to solve those logical puzzles, and there was poetry, which I’ve always loved. So there I was, a 5 or 6 year old, reciting Ovid’s love poems. I loved anything romantic and sensitive, so it was great.

Perhaps you’ll think “How precocious!” but it wasn’t at all. I was a totally normal little girl, with dolls and stuffed animals and a head full of dreams, and doing Latin didn’t turn me into some monster. It was just something I enjoyed. When I got Latin in 7th grade it was a cinch for me, because I’d got the basics, and it was fun to have a subject I was always good at.

Then, in 9th grade, we got French. I couldn’t get my mouth around the sounds. I didn’t hear the difference between the vowels. Several other classmates were already fluent, and I was a bit frustrated not to be able to join in the fun. Our teacher obviously adored those few fluent speakers, and I remember kind of switching off in class. The texts in our book were a total bore. Then our teacher got sick, and we had substitutes and then no teacher and then finally another teacher came who started drilling us, and I got one bad grade after the other. At the end of 11th grade I was one unhappy girl, and flunked the grade.

I was so fed up with my school and the whole situation that I went on a diet, lost 15 pounds and decided to change my life. I was 16 and making good money babysitting, so I saved up all my money and bought myself a ticket to France. Burgundy, Auvergne, Province:  I was there for two blissful months, working with French youth to restore old castles and churches. It was great living in a community with people just a little older than me. I naturally fell in love with a French boy, and finally got some useful and real phrases to say. So, to make a long story short, I came back fluent in French. Oh, incidently, I had top marks in my report card from then on. But frankly, I couldn’t have cared less. School was over for me. I knew I could learn, I knew I could make it in life. And I knew that school was simply in my way. Life happened after school.

So there. That’s probably why I became a teacher.

Net neutrality

It’s not always easy to follow the bureaucrats, but Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined actions he says the FCC must take to preserve the free and open Internet. The FCC’s existing case-by-case enforcement of communications law is already guided by four open Internet principles that say that consumers must be able

  • to access all lawful Internet content
  • to access all lawful applications and
  • to access all lawful services of their choice
  • and to attach any non-harmful device to the network.

Mr. Genachowski has now proposed two new principles, saying that Internet access providers

  • must be prevented from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, although they must be allowed to manage networks reasonably
  • must be transparent about their network management practices.

It’s a complicated world out there, and some of the corporations oppose net neutrality as limiting technological and market development, especially in wireless services. But as one comment says, “If AT&T doesn’t like it, that’s a very good sign.” For a good overview of the concept and the players involved, see Wikipedia. Also see, set up by the Obama administration, where the public can watch Mr. Genachowski’s speech and post comments.