Don’t Panic… You Have a Towel!

Published May 25, 2010 · Estimated reading time: 2 minutes · Share your thoughts
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Today is international Towel Day, a day of tribute to the late Douglas Adams, the brilliant author of, among many works, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979). Despite passing away quite young, Douglas Adams has had an undeniable influence on popular culture. When I first read Hitchhiker’s Guide in my late teens, I felt as though I had finally been let in on a big universal joke. The sci-fi genre was one I was well-acquainted with, but this was something entirely different– it was the seriously funniest or the funniest serious work I’d ever read. I finished the rest of the series within the span of a few weeks that summer and keep going back to them to this very day for wisdom and insight that just can’t be found elsewhere.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Chapt. 3)

While Douglas Adams was indeed onto something, if I were to travel across time and space carrying only a towel, I’d only be comfortable with one which had the following printed on it:

qw-cheatsheet
*Source: Topotaco via Gizmodo

To Mr. Adams, faeries or not, I’d like to think you are enjoying the view of the garden from the restaurant.

Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi

Politics and the English Language

Published May 02, 2010 · Estimated reading time: 27 minutes · 3 responses so far
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Leonardo Da Vinci once said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” and nowhere does this hold more true than in writing. The best written works aren’t those that are the longest or use the biggest words– writing a work that is concise, lucid and fluent requires much more skill and dedication, and achieving that balance is something that I’ve struggled with in my writing. The following is a brilliant essay by English author and journalist George Orwell, expanding on the mantra “Keep it simple, stupid!“. While the essay is targeted to political writing, the principles laid out are important for any writer (to have hammered in his/her brain).

Politics and the English Language

George Orwell (1946)

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent, and our language—so the argument runs—must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.

Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.
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Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi