Keeping your Sashas and Shuras straight

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Photo by azazelok on Pixabay

Maybe it’s happened to you: you decided to finally crack into one of the great Russian novels — Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak — and you’re suddenly flooded by an array of long, almost unpronouncable names that seem to change from page to page. Now, these great novels are hard enough to track without being confused about who’s who. Having a working understanding of Russian names is going to make the process quite a bit smoother. If you’re learning Russian or travelling to a Russian-speaking place, this is also an imperative.

A Russian name is made up of three parts: the given name (имя), the patronymic (отчество — related to отец, father), and the surname (фамилия — note that this word can be a false cognate and to say family you need to say семья). …

And would it matter?

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Photo by S. Hermann and F. Richter on Pixabay

Note: this article isn’t intended to help you decide if you are on the autism spectrum. I am not a doctor or even a casual life expert. This just represents my personal experience, what I learned through my own research, and my conclusions (which, at the risk of spoilers, are ambiguous and I am not writing this article as an autistic person, just someone trying to monetize the thing I’ve been researching…) Please forgive me if I use offensive language; I tried to be careful and any mistakes were made in ignorance.

Like, I assume, a good number of people, a few months ago I started to see a lot of articles discussing how autism is often masked and therefore undiagnosed in women. Naturally, I posed the question to myself: could I be on the autism spectrum? It wasn’t the first time I’d wondered, but it was the first time that answering the question with ‘yes’ seemed credible. …

What does ‘canceling’ mean?

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Vladimir Baranov-Rossine, Adam and Eve (from Wikimedia Commons)

Ruth Benedict was the first to write about ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ cultures in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (1946), a study of Japanese society. She claimed that while Western, Christian societies tend to regulate behavior through guilt (an internal sense of wrongdoing), Japan tends to regulate behavior through shame (external sense of wrongdoing). Sin versus losing face. Benedict writes:

In anthropological studies of different cultures the distinction between those which rely heavily on shame and those that rely heavily on guilt is an important one. A society that inculcates absolute standards of morality and relies on men’s developing a conscience is a guilt culture by definition, but a man in such a society may, as in the United States, suffer in addition from shame when he accuses himself of gaucheries which are in no way sins (…) In a culture where shame is a major sanction, people are chagrined about acts which we expect people to feel guilty about. This chagrin can be very intense and it cannot be relieved, as guilt can be, by confession and atonement (…) True shame cultures rely on external sanctions for good behavior, not, as true guilt cultures do, on an internalized conviction of sin. Shame is a reaction to other people’s criticism (…) it requires an audience or at least a man’s fantasy of an audience. Guilt does not. …

A Catholic perspective

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Image by Hiro N on Pixabay

I am occasionally reminded that a lot of people build up a strict dichotomy between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’. Not just a dichotomy — an emnity. Spirituality is the charming, innocent Rapunzel in her tower; religion is the wicked witch holding her captive. Spirituality sees the holy and the beautiful in everything; religion chains up the holy, insists on its own rules, acts largely for its own selfish gain.

The dichotomy reminds me of the one between science and religion, where the conflict between the two branches is rather obviously entirely fictitious: what we call ‘science’ is the science of the physical, while what we call ‘religion’ is the science of the spiritual. Of course, conflicts can arise as to which science a particular topic belongs to (the obvious example is fundamentalists who prefer a world-origin story based on a literal reading of the Bible to scientific evidence). …

Minimum wage employment-seeking hell

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Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

I have a little secret.

I’m not passionate about customer service.

I’m not, because no one is. Because it would be a mark of insanity. Because it’s not a valid object of passion (see David Mitchell). Because it’s essentially a chore — one I might be good or bad at, one I might enjoy or dislike — but a chore the same. Not a vocation. It’s work that has to be done to make the cogs of the system run smoothly.

This isn’t what I say in job interviews, of course. I slip into character. I’m passionate about customer service. I have long loved [Target, Office Depot, Chili’s]. I imply (without looking too desperate, of course) that getting this job would be the fulfilment of a life-long dream. …

Spanish-language media

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Photo by Darrell Perry on Pixabay

One of the best ways to learn a foreign language is to find media — books, music, TV shows, movies, etc — that you really love. Finding something you really enjoy is worth dozens of hours of study: you learn faster, become involved with the language and the culture, mark out a little place that belongs to you.

I admit that I’ve struggled to find things I really love in Spanish. Telenovelas don’t work for me (I’m sorry, I’ve tried, I just tend to droop after the first couple episodes…) and most Latin pop music doesn’t grab me that much. I imagine I’m not the only one in this boat, so here are a few things I’ve found that I happen to like. …

A Musical Christmas Tour of Europe

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Image by Jill Wellington on Pixabay

Merry Christmas, everyone! Now, you may have been listening to Christmas music since November — willingly or unwillingly. While I maintain that songs like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Let it Snow never wear out, you might be looking for more songs to add a little variety to your wintry playlist. And how much better if they give you a little glimpse into another culture?

So, to kick off the Christmas seasons, ten international Christmas songs, some traditional and some modern, but all festive.

This villancico (carol) tells the story of the Virgen Mary coming to the river to wash her clothes while fish come up to see the Baby Jesus. …

Loving the Lord with all your imagination

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Photo by Prettysleepy on Pixabay

As a child, I was always daydreaming. I spent most days privately being Princess Ozma or Hermione Granger or Eilonwy-Of-The-Red-Gold-Hair in my head, transforming the playground into a marvellous kingdom or my cheery classroom into a gloomy dungeon. I had imaginary friends (and even an imaginary daughter), and I made up stories about everything. I lay awake at night carefully filling in the next sequence in my running daydream, or mapping out fictional locations in my head, almost believing that if I did this carefully enough, I would wake up in the fantastical worlds I wanted to visit.

But although I was a religious child, I never daydreamed about Christianity. I remember once, perhaps after encountering some material suggesting I treat Jesus as a friend, faulting myself for spending more time with my imaginary daughter in our little overgrown cabin than I did with Jesus Christ (you’ve got to have priorities). So I resolved to bring Jesus along on one of my walks through the forest, treating him as if He were, in fact, an imaginary friend. I imagined him as a boy a little older than me, and his most discernible trait was correcting my moral lapses. You shouldn’t have cut that corner! That wasn’t a very charitable thought! Are you being humble enough right now?

The writing of Luigi Giussani

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Athena appearing to Odysseus, Giusepe Bottoni, Wikimedia Commons

Luigi Giussani’s The Religious Sense was presented to me with a ten-star review by a close friend who insisted seriously: ‘This is the deepest gift I can give’. His life had been transformed by the writings of the Italian theologian and the movement he founded, Communion and Liberation, and he knew many others who’d had the same experience.

Ultimately, I did not find that the book enriched my life very much (and I would even say that it impoverished my spiritual life). …

Vocabulary with unusual origins

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From granandyou on Pixabay

As languages go, Spanish tends to feel pretty regular. It’s a Romance language and it commits to the bit; most of its vocabulary comes from Latin and it tends to line up neatly in non-ambiguous, evenly-weighted syllables: where English is a windswept moor above a ragged cliff, Spanish is a well-curated trail through an sunny, open forest. While this certainly is more convenient for language-learners, it can also feel a bit uninspiring. Where do you go to get into the heart of the language, the part that makes it breathe and sing?

Luckily there are wonders in the forest; it can just take some patience and dedication to discover them. I think one place to start is with words that have slightly different origins than the rest of the pack. Quite a lot of these words will be from Arabic — extensive parts of Spain were ruled by Muslim powers from 711–1492 — but some of them…


Cecily Lawless

still making tarts💝

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