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April 08, 2004

ESL notes on "Network"

I finally got David to watch the amazingly prescient film Network tonight, and as I predicted he quite enjoyed it. I did too--I always do--as the film has some of my favorite dialogue. Paddy Chayefsky was a screenwriting god.

Anyway, I wanted to look up references in Google to a few trenchant lines from the movie, and I stumbled upon's notes on the slang and topical references in the film. It is nothing short of genius, somewhere between Cliff's Notes and a dictionary of slang. (A funny but grammatically difficult insult. "Blow it out your ass" is a very vulgar and somewhat dated way of saying "fuck you," and generally speaking, the "it" is rarely replaced by another direct object, as Laureen does here. In this case, "the seminal prison infrastructure" refers to the political organizing of prisoners. "Seminal" is a word that means seed, or the beginning of an organization, and "infrastructure" is an important word referring to physical foundations, such as streets.) Though the notes on Network are "among the longest we've ever written," you can peruse notes on everything from Amistad to The Wizard of Oz.

When you think about it, millions of non-native speakers have learned English through the movies--so the effort makes sense. But to the native speaker, there is an earnestness that is both touching and disconcerting. On the other hand, one has to wonder if this feeling is not the very same an Elizabethan would have looking through the ridiculously didactic footnotes that embellish every modern edition of Shakespeare.

Posted by jay at April 8, 2004 10:10 PM | TrackBack
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