Phthis and Phthat

  1. I just started reading Eat, Pray, Love. I resisted for a while, because it’s one of those books that comes out of nowhere to become the “must-read!” book of the year. Everyone seems to be reading it, and at least five people have recommended it to me recently, partly because the writer describes a year of transition following a relationship that has ended. I finally picked it up, and a third of the way through, I am enjoying it despite its flaws.
  2. At dinner on Saturday night, a fellow Great Whatsiter took vociferous issue with the book, suggesting it represents many things that are wrong with American society today: It’s self-indulgent. It treats other cultures as things that exist for our own edification / enjoyment. It’s precious. To a certain extent, all this is true. Yet the book still has some powerful passages, and it clearly resonates with many people. Is the book inherently bad, as he suggests? Or is disliking it merely a matter of taste?
  3. This discussion put me in mind of The Da Vinci Code. Yes, it’s formulaic. No, it’s not terribly well written. No, it’s not even close to great literature. But in jacket-quote language, it’s a rollicking good read! I read it on a plane, and was absolutely delighted to do so. Does everything have to be good for you? Can’t we enjoy a taste of literary junk food every once in a while without guilt?
  4. …Which made me think of the foofaraw that broke out when Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, said he didn’t want the Oprah Book Club insignia on his books. I thought Franzen’s point was a reasonable one: The Oprah sign, for good or bad, and rightly or not, alters people’s perception of what a book is. I will admit to hesitating when buying certain books, because the telltale Oprah insignia makes it feel like I’m buying into a certain mentality. Admit it: You were more likely to buy a Feist CD when no one knew who she was than when her CD’s were all over Starbucks, correct?
  5. In other news, I went to see “Juno.” Yes, it’s getting so many good reviews that it’s only natural to be skeptical. Yes, the first 10 minutes are self-conscious and over-written. But oh, my god. What a great, honest, smart movie. With a great cast. I loved it. Best movie I’ve seen in a long while. Anyone else seen it?
  6. Yes, it’s a crutch to number my thoughts so I don’t have to write transitions within paragraphs. And yes, it’s annoying and vaguely pretentious to start all these sentences with “Yes” or “No.” No, I can’t stop myself. I’m on a roll.
  7. Jesus wept.
  8. During a Russian literature class in college, I came across the phrase “phthis and phthat” in one of the books we were studying. It was in a sentence uttered by a foppish character, and was his own idiosyncratic speech impediment. I included it in a paper to illustrate some point or another, and the instructor wrote, “Your Russian should be good enough now, of course, to know the equivalent in Russian.” I didn’t. And I didn’t want to ask her, so she wouldn’t know I didn’t know. I still don’t know, and it’s driving me crazy.
  9. I was going to punt for this post, but this is what I’ve managed to squeeze out instead. I hope you enjoyed it. I’d put in some goofily cropped photos if it wasn’t so dadgum late. Please comment so I don’t feel like a loser.
  10. Happy Tuesday!
  11. Have you finished your Christmas shopping? ___ yes. ___ no. ___ maybe.

81 responses to “Phthis and Phthat”

  1. hey — re: punting. I was going to give AWB a ring and see if she had anything she was itching to write. then i realized she’d already been writing again, so i decided to fall back on more traditional blogging techniques: the block quote.

    Is Eat, Pray, Love a california thing? I’ve never heard of it and had no one recommend it. No one has argued about its evil superpowers that I’ve overheard, in Starbucks or elsewhere. Now I have to google it to see what the fuss is about out there where the sun never stops shining.

    our new guilty pleasures — or not so guilty: the CW. thank you, thirteen-year-old daughter. anyone else watch Aliens in America?

  2. MF says:

    My fiance broke up with me. I guess I should pick up “Eat, Pray, Love”

  3. Adriana says:

    Huh, I’m reading Eat, Pray, Love, too. Since we live in a neighborhood filled with writers, editors, journalists, etc. people leave books out on their stoops all the time, and that’s how I came across EPL. I resisted too, at first. “Who is this self-involved woman and why do I care about her privileged journey or self discovery?!?” But then a friend of mine put it on her favorites list and I decided to give it another try. And the further I got into it the more she seduced me. I think she wins you over by force of personality in the first section, but I just finished the “pray” part and was sincerely moved. Now I’m sending a copy to my mother and sister.

    Me, hook in mouth. Oh well. I’m not reading “The Secret” any time soon, though.

    MF, that’s sad news — I’m so sorry!

  4. Bryan says:

    Park Slope: the new LA.

  5. Scotty says:

    1) Wow, that sounds like a reaction I’d have to such a book.
    2) But it wasn’t me.
    3) I’ll bet Dave thought it was me.
    4) Bryan probably did too.
    5) It wasn’t me, right?
    6) I’ll bet it was Tim.
    7) No, I still haven’t seen fucking Juno. (By the time Miramax (or whoever) allows their release strategy to trickle down to Long Beach, I’ll be blind from age-related cataracts.)
    8) Parrish, I love you. (And I really loved this post.)
    9) Dave, I’m home.

  6. 4) I thought it was Swells. But I’d believe it was Tim, too.

  7. Scotty says:

    And another thing, why doesn’t Juno just get an effing abortion? Does the film answer this question?

  8. TC says:

    I really enjoy that we have this thing where being on an airplane totally changes the rules about acceptable media. Like, I watched Russell Crowe in “A Good Year”… but it’s okay, it was on a plane. In fact, I myself read Eat, Pray, Love on a plane.

  9. bryan says:

    If the title of the book were “Eat, Pray, Love on a Plane” I might be more interested.

  10. trixie says:

    1. i thought it was jeremy
    2. i am not done with christmas shopping, and i have no intention of being prepared for christmas this year.
    3. i was totally irritated when middlesex showed up as an oprah book club selection, even though i haven’t read it, i intend to, and now it’s going to seem as though i am reading it now because of that. at least i have an old copy of it without the logo.
    4. i was just thinking about feist the other day and how crazy and awesome it must be from her side of things to be suddenly famous, and rich. i’m happy for her even though it’s wierd.
    5. i haven’t heard anyone talking about eat play love either. philly is no park slope.
    6. can someone write me a doctor’s note so i can go home?

  11. trixie says:

    7. great post, lisa!

  12. cynthia says:

    great post
    I hought it was Jeremy or Bryan
    Yes I have done my christmas shopping
    Have not read the book but I will add it to my must do’s over the break.
    I read Da vinci code over plane before, and although it wasn’t a book, I normally would read. I still thought it was a good enjoyment piece, that I read his other 3 books.

  13. swells says:

    1. Thanks, Bryan, for assuming I am so hip and conscious as to reject Eat, Pray, Love on its consumerist, indulgent Americanness. I wish I were, but I have been wanting to read it partly because I love travel writing and mainly to see if it’s by the same Elizabeth Gilbert whose articles were the greatest thing about SPIN in the 90s.

    2. Re. the “on a plane” disclaimer: I once busted my brother-in-law for beginning a story with “I was in the McDonald’s drive-through–just to get a Coke–and . . . ” I love disclaimers.

    3. Don’t answer Scotty’s question about Juno, though it is my main one too, as in, for god’s sake, use your head! Because like that ubiquitous book (which I didn’t know was just a California thing–it is EVERYWHERE), I really want to see Juno too.

    4. Oprah, I KNOW!! How could she pick “Middlesex,” which everyone I know hated but which I absolutely adored? And how do you think I feel when I have to explain to my students why I’ve made them buy not one but TWO books with the telltale O on the front, making them look cheap and sheeplike? (I mean, it’s hard to leave Faulkner and Morrison out of an American Lit survey, but it’s embarrassing to have the O all over my section at the campus bookstore shelf!)

  14. Scotty says:

    So what does the ‘O’ endorsement of the other ‘O’ mean to you all? Does S-Bucks sell The Audacity of Hope?

  15. Dave says:

    Sad news MF.

    The DaVinci Code wasn’t even enjoyable for me, violating my rule that my guilty pleasures should be pleasurable. This eating and praying book sounds like something I’d rather have my friends blog about for me.

    In analytic philosophy, the term dthat is used as a rigid designator in possible-worlds semantics.

  16. swells says:

    re. christmas shopping, a small vignette:

    Jeremy, with look of high anxiety and apprehension: “You didn’t get me a Christmas present, did you?”
    Me: “No. Don’t get me one.”
    Jeremy: (wordless with joy, awash with relief) “YES!!”
    Me: “That’s my gift to you.”

  17. Scotty says:

    I’m married to the most enjoyable person in the world!

  18. bryan says:

    so what, swells, you’re going to give LP not one but two comments in one day (with more to come, I’m sure) and yesterday my/AWB’s provocative post about date rape and holiday songs doesn’t get a peep out of you?

    there’s good work out there on the O book club phenom that you could give your students (including work by my friend/former teacher Cecilia Farr). i say, make the O part of the course discussion! certainly it has bearing on how and why people read at the beginning of a new century. btw, my friend caleb has a great new piece on the decline of reading in this wk’s New Yorker.

    12: would that i lived where i could have had dinner with LP in the last week — or would that she lived here.

  19. 18: woops. see my apology, swells, over on the other thread.

  20. santa says:

    MF: I’m so sorry! He is clearly a dope.

    Scotty: I love you too. For realz.

    Dave: Analytic philosophy, analytic shmilosophy. Surely your Russian is good enough to know the equivalent phrase…? Please, solve the mystery for me!

  21. LP says:

    Oh, hell. Forgot to change the name. Tee hee.

  22. Ruben Mancillas says:

    I hate Oprah.

    I have nice cousins from a red state who have taught their children not to say the word, “we don’t hate anything, honey.”

    I hate Oprah.

    Check out (I can’t link so you’ll have to make keystrokes, sorry) the Lee Siegel essay on Oprah which is at Arts and Letters Daily. The piece is a bit more of a backhanded compliment but ultimately damns us all for her-but I had never heard Winfreyism used before and kind of liked it.

    I wrote (poorly, or I should say worse than usual, it was my first time here on the whatsit) on the Da Vinci Code and used the airplane excuse as well. I thought it was maybe the worst written book that I had finished in over a decade or so but the excuse got me to thinking about Upright Citizens Brigade. Have you guys seen the one where the secular Jew suddenly decides that he can do anything as long as he does it through a hole in the sheet? Is there any line that can’t be crossed or sin absolved by a brief separation from the earth’s crust?

    Scott-why drop the f-bomb on # 5 and then get all cute on #7? Keep it real, my man. Or was that just another appearance by your spelling daemon?

    Steph, Jeremy: I got both of you incrediblly thoughtful and expensive Christmas gifts.

    No pressure.

  23. Scotty says:

    Mancillas: your whole comment is totally effed!

  24. swells says:

    Bryan: Actually, my lit anthology from a few years ago had a short article by Franzen about why he turned down Oprah–I used to love to begin the semester in it. Haven’t seen that book you linked though–sounds fascinating! The new Eat Pray Love perhaps!

    Scotty: Oops, but i DID get YOU a Christmas present. Sorry.

  25. Dave says:

    My Russian is terrible. Some variant on это and то, obviously, but what? Фэто, maybe? Where are our foppish Russian lurkers?

  26. Dave says:

    But фэто doesn’t make sense with то. So maybe эфо and фо? But would a Russian ever say that, even a fop? Ү меня болит голова.

  27. LP says:

    Exactly. This is what’s been driving me crazy all these years. The only thing that would make sense would be “etho” and “tho” — but “th” is a completely non-Russian sound.

  28. trixie says:

    maybe my note for work could be written in russian?

  29. LT says:

    1. such activity here this morning!
    2. swells, i love disclaimers too. record club makes me want to disclaim all over the place. and i want this post to be re-titled “phthdisclaimer.”
    3. i think it was tim
    4. i left my copy of da vinci code on a plane for you, LP.
    Middlesex: decent, but cannot beat The Virgin Suicides. Put that on your list, Oprah!
    6. Every Christmas present I’ve purchased is for Jeremy.
    7. My favorite quote of the day:
    Although it wasn’t a good book, I normally would read
    8. I love youse.

  30. LT says:

    woah, italics in reverse!

  31. LT says:

    My second favorite quote of the day: My Russian is terrible. Some variant on это and то, obviously…

  32. Tim Wager says:

    I must own up to being the condemner of Eat, Pray, Love . . . and I haven’t even read the book! I couldn’t make it past the first 10 pages. I don’t have the time right now, and you probably don’t have the patience, and LP pretty much summed up my critique, so I won’t go into it.

    MF, I’m so sorry to hear your news! Very sad.

  33. Beth W says:

    When I first saw Eat Pray Love I thought it was a diet book.
    1. Eat sensibly
    2. Pray you don’t eat too much
    3. Love um … Jesus?

  34. I’m sure the dieting companion can’t be far behind.

    Geez. If Lisa had given us a link to the damn thing I would have looked it up so I could see what I was being so snarky about. I’m too lazy.

  35. Man, you guys are hilarious. There’s no reason for me to comment with my opinions because
    1. I’ll just get shot down by Bryan and
    2. I can’t possibly say anything that will add to the funny.

    But I’m commenting because Lisa wanted me to.

    As far as Christmas presents go, I have one present to buy my little brother, but no more money. Ahh, the life of a graduate, a mere four days after she does so.

  36. 35: does that mean you just graduated? if so, congratulations.

    why do you think i’m so mean?

  37. I did. I wore green and white striped tights with the black robe; with my really long red/orange hair, I looked awesome.

    Who said you were mean?

  38. ks says:

    Dear Lisa (and any other “foppish” students of the Russian language out there),

    I happen to have two Russian men working on my house today. Neither speaks more than about six or seven words of English so communicating with them is a lot like charades, but in a very good and amusing way. I’d be happy to ask them to clarify the meaning of phthis and phthat if you would like. This will require the assistance of the guy who is their boss (my neighbor), and he communicates with one of the men in Hebrew but speaks a bit of Russian himself. Someone please just tell me how to ask the question and I’ll get back to you no later than tomorrow. Unless you actually prefer to keep it all cloaked in mystery…

  39. cynthia says:

    You guys are right when Da Vinci Code was not a great piece of literature. So who was it Tim, Bryan, or Jeremy. hey is there s gift exchange going on here that nobody told the newbies. I guess my shopping is not done after all.

  40. Tim says:

    Cynthia, see comment #32. I was the one who got so exercised about EPL, based on little to no actual reading of it.

  41. Jeremy says:

    I can’t believe there was any question–that comment was so T-Wag. (I mean that in a good way!)

    Otherwise, Christmas shopping? Bah!

  42. cynthia, i think jeremy would like Eat Pray Love (or is that Eats Chutes and Leaves, or is that Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, or is that Eats, Shits, and Loves) for xmas. And gummi bears in his stocking. i lost track of which Eats book this discussion actually had as a starting point.

    Is this one of those Course in Miracles sorts of books?

  43. Okay. I finally went to the book’s website to see what this whole thing is about. I have to say, I would side with Tim, without having read it either.

    She lost me by the end of the first paragraph of the dust jacket flap.

    But I kept reading. I especially like how all the countries she visits are there “for” her personal growth and development.

  44. I do like the notion of her meeting a guru and a surprisingly wise Texan, though!

  45. e says:


  46. LP says:

    ks: What an excellent offer! Part of me prefers to have the mystery remain (I have had ample opportunity to ask Russians over the years and haven’t done so, either out of forgetfulness or some deepe-seated impulse.) But the vision of having the contractors’ boss ask them in a mix of Hebrew and elementary Russian while they tear down drywall or whatever they’re doing is irresistible.

    So: Please ask your neighbor to ask them the following: With what sort of strange affectation might a 19th-century gay Russian man pronounce the words “eto” and “to”?

    Thank you.

  47. lane says:


    HEY now . . . , . . . be careful.

  48. lane says:


    ALL good children go to heaven?

  49. hey — i like LA, at least the part these kids live in.

  50. except that’s more wmsbrg than the slope. hell, it’s more LES than the slope, even in 2007.

    oops. am i being cranky still? i must have too much unfinished work.

  51. Natasha says:

    My Russian is kind of OK. Lisa, would you happen to remember what book this phrase was from and who was the author? I could possibly translate that. Dave, ti pravda govorish’ po-russki?! Dage pechataesh,’ priyatno videt’ svoih ludey :)

  52. J-man says:

    Swells and LT: I LOVED Middlesex – loved the characters, loved learning about the history of the war between Greece and Turkey, loved how the story spanned several generations but didn’t lose track of itself. Wasn’t crazy about Virgin Suicides – I thought it was slow and depressing and even a little dull.
    Bryan, I was going to make a joke about “eats, shoots and prays” but it seems you beat me to it.
    MF, that’s some seriously fucked up shit – I’m really sorry to hear this news.
    Lane, it actually seems like Park Slope is the new Silverlake.
    LP and Dave, stop showing off, fahgawdsakes.
    Who’s hungry?

  53. “Eats, Shoots, and Prays”: Jen, we could sell it on bumperstickers to the Huckabee core.

  54. cynthia says:

    Bryan, thanks for the tip , I will add it to my list. Gummy bears huh, cool! Bryan also thanks for the clarification on the comment.

  55. cynthia says:

    Tim, sorry I missed your comment on 32. You caused quite a stir.

  56. brooke says:

    1. Middlesex was a great book, IMO. Funny, well written, etc. Oprah ‘discovered’ that book and put it in her club when I was reading it. It meant that everywhere I went with the book, middle aged women would take it as a sign I wanted them to talk to me. It was lame…

  57. ks says:

    #46: Lisa, I nearly forgot about the offer I made. So far today the neighbor has not popped by, but if/when he does I will ask your crazy question. Seriously, I am dying to see the looks on these guys’ faces when asked such a question. They already think I’m a nutcase because of my gestures when trying to communicate. This should really make that concrete.

  58. LP says:

    51: Natasha, I can’t remember what book it was, sadly. It might have been a Gogol short story. Or not.

    57: ks: Can’t wait to hear the report! Phthis is an exciting moment!

  59. Dave says:

    “Eats, Shoots & Prays” as a Huckabee descriptor is so awesome. Would have been better before he lost all that weight.

    Наташа, здесь несколько человек кто говорит по-русски.

  60. ssw says:

    Trixie is not feeling well today, and she needs to go home early. Please excuse her.

    (dave, did you just say this in russian?)

  61. Natasha says:

    Dave, otkuda vi? Nichego ne ponimau.
    Lisa, Gogol’ is an interesting choice, I don’t know if Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita” has ever been translated, but if it has and you liked Gogol’, it would be another mentality shifting book to read. Cirque Du Soleil is now in OC performing Corteo. It’s awesome, it’s done in Bulgakov’s style and most of the performers are Russian. It’s worth seeing just for the sake of the two women in French undergarments, of the beginning of 1900, spinning on huge crystal chandeliers :) I am not sure where everyone is located, but if it is ever in your area, I highly recommend it!

  62. Dave says:

    вырас. How completely embarrassing.

  63. LP says:

    I was phthwondering.

  64. Tim Wager says:

    Напомните мне никогда не пробовать писать на русском языке на этом вебсайте. Очень трудно сделать Вас счастливыми.

    Между прочим, скажите мне, если это имеет какой-нибудь смысл. Я написал это использующий

  65. Trixie Honeycups says:

    tim, i bet that you didn’t mean for that whole thing to translate into question marks, but that is what it did when i tried.
    and ssw, thanks for the sick note. i am printing it out and taking off work tomorrow.

  66. Tim Wager says:

    Трикси, возможно есть проблема с вашим браузером. Firefox мог бы работать лучше. Это перевело назад на английский язык очень хорошо для меня.

  67. Jen says:

    Вы – такие posers.

  68. E. says:

    #49 – really? the hip kids in L.A. look so fuckin clean! i can’t even look at their happy faces. \

  69. LP says:

    65, 67, 68. These made me laugh out loud. In Russian, that would be spelled “Xo-xo-xa-xa-xa!”

  70. Dave says:

    They’re not clean, E., they’re just well-lit. Sunshine, you know.

  71. Dave says:

    But watch out for the alpha rays.

  72. cynthia says:

    ok, now that we know what to get Jeemy for christmas, how about everybody else?

  73. ks says:

    LP: So sorry. I was unable to communicate with the Russians via my neighbor, the Egyptian, Hebrew-speaking (and also misogynist, homophobic and super-obnoxious) interlocutor. These men are all very smart but not the right people to ask about issues of tone, language and literarture, apparently. Maybe it’s a class thing. I don’t know. Oi veh. I hope you find the answers you seek elsewhere. I wish I could have delivered for you. Instead, just made them scratch their heads in complete befuddlement, which one doesn’t get to do every day, so it was fun.

  74. LP says:

    ks, you are a hero for trying. Perhaps it’s best that the mystery remains!

  75. cynthia says:

    Ok Bryan is its omn the list but oh how do I get it to you.

  76. cynthia says:

    or anybody elses

  77. Natasha says:

    :):):) You guys are hilarious, my cheeks hurt from laughing, I can’t stop :) Tim, I have to tell you, you are the best Russian speaker among all of us. Your Russian is so proper and polite, I have to say, you speak like a true Russian gentleman, which Dave, you know all of the Russian guys are. :) Dave, yes it is the first question from a Russian to a Russian, gde to viros? Ya iz Moskvi, moi roditeli toge, a ti otkuda vzyalsya?:) It’s not embarrassing, your Russian is totally great, I thought you grew up in my neighborhood :) you scared me there for a second. KS, I keep imagining you asking those Russian immigrants (probably Ukrainian:), who have no clue, about the phthis and the phthat while signing (how did you sign phthis and phthat by the way?:) and them scratching their heads and saying to each other, “What in the world?…” , I am about to roll off my bed. Please, let me help you next time around. Lisa, I called my best friend in Moscow, whose Mom is a Russian literature teacher and she promised to give us an answer, so I promise, your Christmas will be peaceful and you’ll never have to worry about the phthis and the phthat ever again, or any of the other Russian expressions for that matter. I love you guys, Happy Thursday! My face will be sore tomorrow:)

  78. Natasha says:

    Trixie, I hope you feel better. I don’t think you are in Cali, but if you are, I can bring chicken soup. Take vitamin C and Vodka shots, I promise, you’ll feel much better :)

  79. Dave says:

    I’ve found the vodka shots make me feel better even without vitamin C.

    Thanks for the compliment, Natasha. I lived in Ukraine (Kharkov and Donetsk) for a couple of years and studied the language in college a bit. Very rusty these days, so I couldn’t remember if it’s “vyras” or “vyros”. Anyway, ochen’ priyatno poznakomit’sya.