|Comic PDF eBook, 134 pages|
Published 2010 (contents: 2009)
Acquired May 2014
Read June 2014
David Moser sent this photo to me about five years ago and I'm only now getting around to unearthing it from the masses of files scattered over my desktop:
As David exclaimed when I told him that I had found his old message, "Ha! Great! At any rate, nothing has changed in five years, it's still a timely problem."
In Pekingese colloquial, the word BER is often used to describe a quick, light kiss, a "peck" as we would say in English, hence the irony of this photo. It is not an uncommon term in Pekingese; if you listen in on the conversations of real BeijingeRs (PekingeRs, if I may), chances are that you'll hear it surface in their rapid fire patois from time to time.
The problem is that we have this morpheme in spoken Pekingese, but nobody is really sure how to write it in characters. The same is true of many other morphemes in the spoken language, although frequently frustrated character enthusiasts will retroactively assign this or that combination of characters to write an expression from the spoken language and then ex post facto justify their reading (e.g., the contortions they go through to explain the different ways ["bury the bill; buy the bill", etc.] they write Cantonese MAIDAN ["bring the bill"]).
The short Chinese question, which reads "Ber yīge me? / Ber一個么?", roughly meaning "Do you wanna give me a kiss?" is intended to be funny. "Ber yīge ba / Ber一个吧 is a common cutesy phrase, usually used with kids, that means "Give me a kiss". (Hard to reproduce the tone of it, but something like "Gimme a kissy-kissy" or the like.)
First of all, we may assume that the me 么 is meant to substitute for ma 吗 (interrogative particle), but the main thing is the pinyin. I've heard this phrase often myself, and never knew the character for it, and apparently most Chinese aren't sure, either. I just tried searching on the Internet, and found numerous instances on blogs and other websites where others had resorted to this, a lot of hits for "ber一个", indicating that a huge number of people don't know which character this is. I've never been sure, either, whether it's "bei + r" or "ben +r" or "beng + r" or what. I asked my wife and a few other people, and most either don't know or seem to think the proper character is bo1 波, though one guessed 啵 with a mouth radical, and I did find many hits for "啵儿一个", which would maybe be pronounced "ber" as well, I guess. This surprised me. I haven't been able to find a dictionary that gives the definition of "kiss" for any of these characters, which makes me think there perhaps isn't a standard graph for this item. I don't know if you've written about this one yet, but "ber yige ba" (or "bor yige ba", however you would write it) is really very, very common in Beijing at least, and I don't know to what extent in other parts of China.
Whoever did this photoshop was no doubt completely clueless as to how to write it, and had to resort to an alien writing system to write their native language. It's just our old friend the "morpheme with no graph". I'm sure the morpheme probably does have a graph, just that virtually no one knows it. I'm not sure if the retroflex syllable is "ben" or "beng" or maybe even "bo", which I think someone once told me it was. I could find no one who knew the appropriate graph.
By the way, "benr yi ge" is usually used by parents talking to children, or adults being silly with each other, and just means something like "give me a kissy-poo', "kissy-kiss".
If we do a Google search now (the middle of 2014; David wrote the above in 2009) on 啵儿一个 or 波儿一个, we do get a lot of hits, but many of them are false hits because they are broken up by punctuation and refer to something else than the expression under discussion in this post.
Two days ago I did a search on "ber一个" and got 19,100 hits.
For the record, bō 波 means "wave" and bo 啵 is a particle whose usage is similar to that of ba “吧” for denoting a request, command, etc., mainly used in early vernacular. So neither of these characters can be the true běnzì 本字 ("original graph") for the "ber" of "ber一个".
I seldom (almost never) disagree with David on anything, but I would not be so sure that there is a character for writing this morpheme (anyway, David qualified his "sure" with "probably").
I've even seen this "ber一个" written as "吅儿一个" where the two mouths are graphically meant to depict a kiss. But this is not the true character for writing the "ber" of "ber一个" either, since 吅 is actually pronounced as xuān (said to be equal to 喧) and mean "clamor; call out loudly" or sòng (said to be equal to 讼) and mean ("dispute; argue; debate; litigate; bring a case to court"). Consequently, the two characters that are most often pressed into service to write the "ber" of "ber一个" are definitely not the true běnzì 本字 ("original graph") for the "ber" of "ber一个".
As if that were not dismaying enough for hanzi enthusiasts, the situation is further complicated by phonological constraints. Knowledgeable informants on Pekingese pronunciation have told me that the "ber" of "ber一个" is actually closer to "benr" or "beir" than just "ber".
Nonetheless, we also find the character with the mouth radical used in related expressions such as dǎbobo 打啵啵 and dǎbor 打啵儿, both of which mean "to kiss" (dǎ 打 is the multipurpose verb meaning "strike; beat; hit; do" — there are at least two dozen more meanings for this verb).
"Ber yīge / Ber一個" ("kissy-poo; kiss-kiss") now has a competitor, "mua yīge / mua一個" ("smooch; smack"), something I was completely unaware of five years ago. A web search for "mua一個" will get you a mind-boggling 244,000 ghits.
Now, if the character for the "ber" of "ber一个" is uncertain, the "mua" of "mua一個" is even less writable in sinographs, since it's not even a permissible syllable in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM). This is further evidence that the Roman alphabet has become a part of the Chinese writing system. See here, here, here, here, here (no. 45), and here.
It would be interesting to see how Wang Shuo or other writers of highly colloquial Pekingese fiction write these expressions. I would imagine that, if they are being true to the speech of real Pekingers, they would often be faced with the dilemma of how to write popular expressions in characters (Lao She, the famous Peking novelist of a previous generation, often confronted this challenge). Ditto for authors who wish to write colloquial expressions from other topolects.
Sinitic Morphemes in Search of Characters
The difficulty of writing genuinely colloquial Pekingese in Chinese characters is a subject that we have often addressed on Language Log. Here is a sampling of some of the relevant posts:
When it comes to other, non-Mandarin topolects (Cantonese, Taiwanese, Shanghainese, etc.), the difficulty of writing all the morphemes of their colloquial forms is even greater, but I shall refrain from listing the relevant posts here, since they are too numerous even to begin to enumerate.
[Thanks to Brendan O'Kane, Rebecca Fu, Gianni Wan, Zhao Lu, Jing Wen, Jiajia Wang, and Ziwei He]
Jonathan Dushoff sent in this photograph of a sign in the Lukang (Lùgǎng 鹿港) public library in Taiwan (apologies for the reflection off the surface):
Jonathan says, "It's obvious how a computer would make that translation; not clear why a human (at the library!) didn't spot it."
The translation software (or somebody) made this mistranslation ("Invites the slipper") because of problems with polysemy, parsing, and homophony. As a matter of fact, depending upon their frame of mind and level of familiarity with Chinese language and characters, even a human being may have to pause for a moment to correctly interpret the intended message.
The Chinese consists of three characters, each with bopomofo phonetic annotation along the right side):
qǐng 請 ("please; invite; request")
tuō 脫 ("take off; remove; shed; doff; escape; get away; come off")
xié 鞋 ("shoe")
Google Translate, Baidu Fanyi, and Bing Translator all render it perfectly as "Please take off your shoes." Even iCIBA has "shoes off; please take off your shoes; take off your shoes; please take your shoes".
One begins to wonder how this mistake ("Invites the slipper") actually occurred. Where did the "slipper" in the sign come from, if not from translation software (which doesn't seem to be the culprit in this case)?
The Mandarin word for "slipper" is tuōxié 拖鞋, which consists of two morphosyllables:
tuō 拖 ("drag; haul; tow; pull; draw; delay")
xié 鞋 ("shoe")
Thus, it would appear that the homophonous term tuōxié 拖 鞋 ("slipper") interfered with the processing of tuō xié 脫鞋 ("take off / remove shoes") and replaced it in the English translation.
I asked about two dozen native speakers of Mandarin if they thought that they pronounced tuōxié 拖鞋 ("slipper") and tuō xié 脫鞋 ("take off / remove shoes") exactly the same. The results of my survey are rather astonishing.
Nearly all individuals who are highly literate in characters (humanists) and professional language teachers maintained that they pronounced tuōxié 拖鞋 ("slipper") and tuō xié 脫鞋 ("take off / remove shoes") in an identical fashion. But there were two categories of native speakers who perceived a difference in their own pronunciation of the two expressions: those who are highly qualified linguists and those who are not very literate in characters. How can we make sense of this phenomenon?
I think that, when native speakers claim they are pronouncing these two expressions in exactly the same way, they are being unduly influenced by the characters, that they are indulging in what we may refer to as "reading pronunciation". It's somewhat comparable to someone pronouncing "Wednesday" and "February" the way they are spelled instead of the way they are spoken in real life.
As for myself (although I am not a native speaker, I possess near native fluency in MSM), I have never felt that tuōxié 拖 鞋 ("slipper") and tuō xié 脫鞋 ("take off / remove shoes") were pronounced identically in actual speech. Simply for innate, cognitive reasons, I'm certain that I make a slight pause between 脫 and 鞋 of 脫鞋 ("remove shoes"; VO), whereas there is no pause between the two syllables of the disyllabic noun 拖鞋 ("slipper") in actual speech. For example, in these two sentences:
chuān tuōxié 穿拖鞋 ("wear slippers")
qǐng tuō xié 請脫鞋 ("please take off [your] shoes")
I will definitely insert a slight pause between the 脫 and 鞋 of 脫鞋 ("remove shoes"), but not between the two syllables of the noun 拖鞋 ("slippers").
When I asked my semi-literate or illiterate (in characters) friends who are native speakers of Mandarin why they thought tuōxié 拖鞋 and tuō xié 脫鞋 were not identical in pronunciation, most of them could not articulate any particular reason, but when I pressed them further, several of them said that it was due to the fact that tuō xié is a verb-object construction, whereas tuōxié is a noun. Incidentally, I elicited their responses simply by wearing a pair of slippers and by taking off one of my shoes, and asking them to say what I was doing in each case, then asking them to tell me if they thought the word for "slipper" and the words for "take off" sounded exactly alike.
Now, when it comes to the linguists, we get much more sophisticated explanations, such as this one from Jiahong Yuan:
Attached is a recording I made. It contains two sentences: shāngdiàn lǐ mài tuōxié 商店里卖拖鞋 ("in stores that are selling slippers"), and jìnmén yào tuō xié 进门要脱鞋 ("when you go inside you have to take off your shoes"). The words "tuoxie" are marked in the textgrid file. 拖鞋 and 脫鞋 are probably slightly different in my pronunciation, but the intuition is vague.
San Duanmu's proposal is that in Mandarin Chinese disyllabic words have a stress on the first syllable; compounds have a stress on the non-head word. So in 拖鞋 (a disyllabic word) the first syllable should be stronger, and in 脫鞋 (VO compound) the second syllable should be stronger (The phonology of Standard Chinese: pp.136). And the relationship between 鞋 and 拖鞋 is related to what San calls "elastic word length": see his papers 现代汉语词长弹性的量化研究 [A quantitative study of elastic word length in Modern Chinese] and "How many Chinese words have elastic length?".
Catherine, Yanyan and I did a study on the stress patterns of polysyllabic words in Mandarin, and we found that the first syllable of a disyllabic word is stronger: Catherine Lai, Yanyan Sui & Jiahong Yuan, "A Corpus Study of the Prosody of Polysyllabic Words in Mandarin Chinese", Speech Prosody 2010.
BTW, the drawing on the sign seems to suggest that patrons are encouraged to go barefoot in the library, which would be frowned upon in most American libraries. On the other hand, I don't know how one might visually indicate that patrons are requested to enter the library in stocking feet.
[Thanks to Zhao Lu, Maiheng Dietrich, Grace Wu, Melvin Lee, Liwei Jiao, Rebecca Fu, Wei Shao, Ziwei He, Jiajia Wang, Andy Lee, and several informants who wish to remain anonymous]
From Karen (Kaiyan) Yang:
As for 拖鞋 and 脱鞋, in Putonghua I do pronounce them exactly alike. I asked some of my friends from Beijing and they said in Beijing Fangyan [VHM: Pekingese] it's also the same. But I think in real daily-life conversation, there are also cases when we emphasize on "拖" in 拖鞋, in order to distinguish it from other types of shoes, or emphasize on "鞋" in 脱鞋, in order to emphasize the mood to make the person take his shoes off. Despite this, I still think it's the exactly alike in Putonghua.
However, if you have interest on the situation in other topolects, such as mine, the Lower Yangtze Mandarin, the difference between the two is distinctive, for "脱" is pronounced out in entering tone in my topolect. There are also other examples of such cases when the pronunciations of two words show no difference in Putonghua, while differ a lot in topolect. Here's a table of some examples.
|Lower Yangtze Mandarin</p>
|全不||ʨʰũ pəʔ||ʨʰyɛn pu|
|全部||ʨʰũ pʋɯ||ʨʰyɛn pu|
|检察||ʨĩ tsʰɛʔ||ʨiɛn tʂʰa|
|检查||ʨĩ tsʰa||ʨiɛn tʂʰa|
|权力||ʨʰũ liʔ||ʨʰyɛn li|
|权利||ʨʰũ lɿ||ʨʰyɛn li|
|脱鞋||tʰʊʔ xɛ||tʰuo ɕiɛ|
|拖鞋||tʰʊ xɛ||tʰuo ɕiɛ|
|发钱||fɛʔ ʨʰĩ||fa ʨʰiɛn|
|罚钱||fɛʔ ʨʰĩ||fa ʨʰiɛn|
Except for the last pair, the pronunciations of all the other pairs are exactly alike in Putonghua they while differ distinctly in my topolect. The point is that, "不" in "全不"·, "察" in "检察", "力" in "权力", "脱" in "脱鞋" are pronounced out in entering tone, which does not exist in Putonghua now.
The opposite case is the last pair. In Putonghua, 发 and 罚 differ in their tones, while in my topolect, they are both pronounced in entering tone, thus in the case of this pair, the pronunciations are exactly alike in my topolect, while they differ in Putonghua.
I don't know if cases in other topolects are similar or not, but I guess at least in topolects that have entering tones, the two pronunciations won't be exactly alike.
Sorry I wrote so many irrelevant things hahaha…. I don't know if you have interest or not, but I do feel proud that Lower Yangtze Mandarin, as well as other topolects, show more delicacy in pronunciation.
Worlds for the Grabbing, Brenda Pearce (1977)
Review by Ian sales
Of the many science fiction writers of the 1970s who have been forgotten, it’s probably not unfair to say that Brenda Pearce is among the most obscure. A British woman science fiction writer, whose two novels were published only in hardback, it’s hardly surprising she’s virtually unknown today. And this despite being a John W Campbell Award nominee in 1975. But having now read her second novel, Worlds for the Grabbing, her obscurity is perhaps less of a mystery.
Although Pearce had two stories published in Analog during the mid-1970s, Worlds for the Grabbing very much follows a British tradition of science fiction. Rather than harken back to the sf of Heinlein, Asimov or Clarke, it has more of the flavour of that written by Captain WE Johns and Hugh Walters. Although not marketed as a “juvenile”, Worlds for the Grabbing initially reads like one, even though its protagonists are all adult. Perhaps it’s the faintly pedagogical tone the prose possesses; perhaps it’s the fact the novel is structured as four separate stories, with a framing narrative, each of which builds to a finale.
The story opens with Captain Kjell Redmain of the United European Space Service (which, despite its name, appears to be resolutely English), who is tasked with discovering the fate of a missing “daysider” which is believed to have crashed on Mercury’s sunward face. The daysider is a small spacecraft, specially built to survive the hellish environment on Mercury. Redmain’s small crew is European, but the most important member is geologist Dr Christopher Collins, and it is through his actions and scientific insight that the fate of the missing daysider is discovered. As is a substantial quantity of uranium, needed by a power-hungry and climate-crashed Earth. It goes without saying that the Mercury described by Pearce – a volcanic inferno, liable to send molten rock shooting skyward in a matter of seconds – bears no resemblance to the planet visited by the MESSENGER space probe in 2011, although, to be fair, it’s perhaps not so far from the thinking of the 1970s.
After the events on Mercury, Collins is sent to Pluto to learn why the diamond mine there has been unable to meet its (quite reasonable) quota, and why the staff on-site have been suffering from a variety of mental problems. Of course, the cause is a scientific puzzle, and Collins manages to solve it – even though he too is affected by it. Again, Pearce’s Pluto is of its time – for one thing, it’s described by as a “planet”, whereas these days, of course, we known it as a “dwarf planet” – but she throws out some nice turns of phrase while describing it:
Ahead of him, only slightly dimmed by his helmet’s thick faceplate, a skein of light sprawled blindingly across the sky. The skein was the Milky Way. After the closed in, small scale vistas of the Base, Collins was spellbound by its unimaginable energy, its multi-parsec distances, its intolerable glory. (p 98)
After Pluto, Collins is sent to Venus, this time to learn why two research stations on the surface were destroyed - and both destructions were connected with Venus’ vast subsurface reservoirs of oil. Collins is re-united with Redmain, but also part of the team is meteorologist Katherine Harrer, who proves to be an old flame of Collins’s. More than that, in fact, and their split was far from amicable. Once again, Collins solves the scientific puzzle represented by the oil on Venus. While Pearce describes the surface conditions reasonably accurately, the presence of the oil is justified with some adroit science-fictional hand-waving.
Introduced during the events on Pluto was psychologist Dr Rachel Bloch, and she, along with Collins, Redmain and Harrer, are next sent to Saturn, to discover why the crews of skimmers who dive too deep into the gas giant’s atmosphere begin to hallucinate and lose control. It’s yet another scientific puzzle, and requires the ingenuity of all four major characters to resolve. It’s the most science-fictional explanation of the four stories, and certainly has the most shocking ending – which is firmly rooted in the psychology of one of the characters.
The SF Encyclopedia describes Worlds for the Grabbing as a “routine but enjoyable space opera”. It’s not. For a start, it’s hard sf and not space opera. It’s certainly enjoyable, but it’s not especially routine – not in reference to other sf, US especially, of its type. Pearce’s prose bounces from workmanlike to quite good, and while there are no sentences that will take your breath away, neither are there any which may cause pain. However, Pearce’s race-relations are, even for the 1970s, border-line offensive. One of the second-string characters, Simon Litua, a physicist, is black, and he often defuses situations by using racist comments ironically. It’s painfully done. The gender politics in Worlds for the Grabbing are also somewhat backward. All of the major characters, with the exception of Rachel Bloch, are male, and the women seem to be confined to the “softer” occupations and sciences. For all its surface appearance of equality, Pearce’s future maps almost precisely onto the UK of the mid-1970s.
If I see a copy of Pearce’s debut novel, Kidnapped into Space (1975), I will buy it and read it. But the fact that she’s been forgotten in the forty years since her first publication comes as no real surprise. Perhaps she might have gone on to write more interesting books - she was, after all, a Campbell nominee – but we will never know. Worlds for the Grabbing is certainly no lost masterpiece, and reads more like an historical document than a science fiction novel for the ages.
While we were away this past week, Deb commented on how much planning a getaway has changed. It used to be, you sent away for brochures from the city/state’s tourism bureau then you could order guidebooks and triptiks from AAA. Then came the Internet and suddenly you could plan a variety of visits in advance, make reservations, and schedule things fairly tight, maximizing your time.
We have always wanted to go to the Pacific Northwest so decided to start in Seattle. Saturday started with the amazing Central Branch of their public library which is 10 stories and has interesting design within. From there we walked down to the docks, strolling and browsing shops and eating fish by the water. We then wandered into town, stopping in Pioneer Square which is a nice area with funky shops for browsing. Then we met up with our old friends Mike and Liz Flynn for the tour of underground Seattle. I had always been fascinated with the concept since seeing it in The Night Strangler and while good, I had hoped to see more. While on the tour, we walked past friends from Fairfield so had enough time to hug hello and run off. After the tour we went to the other side of the area, Alki Beach, where we had dinner at the funky Luna Park Diner then walked the beach, watching the sun go down.
On Sunday, we continued our multimodal visit by taking the monorail to the arts center where the Space Needle and EMP museum reside. The Fantasy and Icons of SF exhibits were impressively designed, splitting time between literary and media so I was pleased. From there we took the ferry to Bainbridge Island and wandered the shops there for a few hours. Back on the main land, we used a bike rickshaw to head towards dinner along the wharf.
Monday was all about food. We wandered all through the famous Pike Place Market, which had an impressive comics shop among the many other stores. But the highlight was the Gourmet Seattle Tour which, for three hours, meant we were eating. Our guide, Nick, took us to eight different locations, telling us all about the rise of foodie culture in Seattle. At each stop, we were giving tastings along with comments from either the owner or the host. So, there were cupcakes, pizza, chowder, fish, mushrooms, beer, beer sausage, and gelato. Not being a drinker, they arranged alternative drinks so I loved my virgin cranberry mojito. We were stuffed and quite happy.
We then took Amtrak on Tuesday, riding through the countryside and coast towards San Francisco. For this 24 hour journey, we had a sleeper and mostly hung out in the parlor car watching the scenery. We wound up befriending a couple from New Zealand and their delightful 15 month old daughter.
Once in San Francisco, we continued to take other modes of transit from trolley car to bus to ferry. Wednesday saw us wandering all around Chinatown and Telegraph Hill where we visited the COIT Tower and its majestic view. On Thursday, we returned to the Wharf area where we found a really cool Arcade Museum with items dating back to the 19th century. I reverted into old habits, dropping quarters into the original Star Wars video game and having a ball. We then found the U.S.S. Jeremiah O’Hare, one of the last remain liberty class ships from World War II so we took the self-guided tour and found it fascinating. That afternoon we took a walking tour of Fort Mason. As a part of the public library system, they have a non-profit group of volunteers who give upward of 95 different walking tours of the city and we selected this one almost at random but were pleased with our guide’s knowledge and what we managed to see. Once done, we treated ourselves to Ghirardelli ice cream sundaes before hiking back to the hotel.
Friday saw us taking an early ferry over to Sausalito, which had been recommended by several on the previous day’s tour. Similar to Bainbridge, it was a mix of shops and restaurants but was relatively unimpressive and perhaps the low point of the trip. As a result, we took an earlier-than-planned ferry back and wound up deciding to have a few hours of downtime since, after all, this was a vacation.
Thanks to modern technology, when it was time to eat, Yelp! Or Open Table provided us with plentiful choices and reviews. We wound up with tasty Mexican, French, and Italian dinners that we would otherwise have missed.
Our final day was spent walking in a different section of the city, taking a walking tour of mansions where we heard some great stories and saw a wide variety of styles. Once done, we wandered down by the water, intending to hit the Presidio but stopped at the impressive Palace of Fine Arts, the last major relic of the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition. We were stunned at its magnificence and from there hit the beach for a walk then took the bus back to the room.
Thankfully, the flight home was uneventful and we returned at a reasonable enough hour allowing us to pick up milk, some dinner, and unpack before collapsing. And now it’s back to summer work and the remaining weeks of my time off.
|Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.|
Published 2009 (contents: 2008-09)
Acquired May 2014
Read June 2014
Weird Al Yankovic's new song "Word Crimes" has generated a lot of heated discussion among linguists and other descriptivist types who didn't take kindly to its litany of language peeves — satire or no satire. (See my original post and Lauren Squires' guest post for extended commentary.) But in detailing various "word crimes," Weird Al managed to commit a linguistic foul of his own. And no, I'm not talking about the split infinitive at the end of the song ("Try your best to not drool"). Weird Al assured his Twitter followers that the line was an intentional bit of trolling:
If you thought I didn’t know that I ended “Word Crimes” with a split infinitive… you don’t give me nearly enough credit.
— Al Yankovic (@alyankovic) July 20, 2014
[Update: In an interview on the Grammarly blog, Weird Al further elaborates: "I purposely left a split infinitive at the end of my song ... to be ironic, and also to see how many online grammar pedants it would annoy."]
The "word crime" in the song had nothing to do with prescriptivist canards. Instead, it was Weird Al's use of the word spastic:
Saw your blog post
It's really fantastic
That was sarcastic
'Cause you write like a spastic
Here is Weird Al's heartfelt apology:
If you thought I didn’t know that “spastic” is considered a highly offensive slur by some people… you’re right, I didn’t. Deeply sorry.
— Al Yankovic (@alyankovic) July 20, 2014
The apology may be in response to various online objections, mostly from British commenters. See, for instance, comments on Reddit (in turn responding to comments on Tumblr), Pharyngula, and 16 Kinds.
This is all highly reminiscent of an incident I wrote about on Language Log back in 2006, when Tiger Woods was taken to task by the British press for saying in a post-round interview at the Masters Tournament that he played like a "spaz." After a flurry of criticism, Tiger apologized, issuing a statement that he "meant nothing derogatory to any person or persons and apologizes for any offense caused."
As I explain in the 2006 post, spaz and the longer form spastic have "become innocuous playground slang in the U.S. but a grave insult in the U.K." I provide some history for that divergence of usage and conclude:
For someone like Tiger Woods who came of age in the '80s… the American usage of spaz had long lost any resonance it might have had with the epithet spastic. This is not the case in Great Britain, however, where both spastic and spaz evidently remain in active usage as derogatory terms for people with cerebral palsy or other disabilities affecting motor coordination. A BBC survey ranked spastic as the second-most offensive term for disabled people, just below retard… The BBC attributes the British resurgence of the epithet to publicity in the early '80s surrounding a man with cerebral palsy named Joey Deacon, particularly his appearance on the children's television show Blue Peter in 1981. The word spaz and other variants like spazmo became firmly connected with Deacon among British youth, according to the BBC report.
All of this helps explain the reaction Tiger's comments engendered in the U.K. press. It would be helpful for British golf fans (and activists for the disabled) to know, however, that… he was no doubt oblivious to the cultural resonances the term might have had across the Pond.
Weird Al, too, missed out on these cultural resonances. (For more, see the Wikipedia entry for spastic, which cites my Language Log post, and Lynne Murphy's post on her Separated by a Common Language blog.) But he was swiftly made aware of the potential for offense and just as swiftly apologized in a forthright manner. If linguists do indeed use "Word Crimes" as a teaching tool, the debate over spastic can serve as an illuminating example of cross-cultural miscommunication and its repair.
Yesterday's Tank McNamara:
For further discussion, see e.g. R. Reiter, "A Logic for Default Reasoning", Artificial Intelligence 1980; or Robert Sugden, "Salience, inductive reasoning and the emergence of conventions", Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 2011.
Since last I
complained reported, we’ve had a few more knocks. More doctoring, more weirdness. I may have gallstones or sludge (my favorite diagnosis ever. I have sludge!).
Oh, and I have a hernia. That’s okay, though. My intestines just wanted to poke their head out, have a look around. Who can blame them?
Despite this, and a setback in terms of my strategy, the relaunch proceeds apace. For the record, the relaunch will include Lovelace 1/2, Interviewing Trey and Corbett-877. So yes, there will be more.
And they will be free to read, right on Banter Latte. I won’t force you to pay for the rest of the story you’ve already started. That’s what we in the industry would call a ‘dick move.’
How much more?
That will still depend on you. I’ll put together a post soon, explaining how the new site will work.
There will be a bunch of other stuff. Reprints and rebroadcasts. And consolidations — but organized so folks won’t need to get caught up in the whole if they just want parts.
And there will also be serials — some all new stuff (well, some of it will seem pretty familiar, but still). That will be paid, but I hope folks will think it’s worth it.
I really hope that, actually. My costs are going up in all of this. A few people donated money to me (and that has been amazingly cool and helpful), but what I really want are things that people can get that will give me the happy monies.
Still, Andi, Lee and Chapman will all be back. That’s perhaps the most important takeaway.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go apply heat to my gut, so I can gently encourage my insides to go back inside.
Kevin Roose, "Microsoft Just Laid Off Thousands of Employees With a Hilariously Bad Memo", New York Magazine 7/16/2014:
Typically, when you're a top executive at a major corporation that is laying off more than 10 percent of your workforce, you say a few things to the newly jobless. Like "sorry." Or "thank you for your many years of service." Or even "we hate doing this, but it's necessary to help the company survive."
What you don't do is bury the news of the layoffs in the 11th paragraph of a long, rambling corporate strategy memo.
And yet, this was Microsoft honcho Stephen Elop's preferred method for announcing to his employees today that 12,500 of them were being laid off.
Roose goes through Elop's memo in order, starting with the salutation.
How bad was Elop's job-axing memo? Really, really bad. It's so bad that I can't even really convey its badness. I just have to show you.
Here's how it starts:
Hello there? Hello there? Out of all the possible "you're losing your job" greetings, you chose the one that sounds like the start to a bad OKCupid message? "Hello there" isn't how you announce layoffs; it's what you say right before you ask, "What's a girl like you doing on a site like this? ;)"
… and ending with the memo's closing:
Collectively, the clarity, focus and alignment across the company, and the opportunity to deliver the results of that work into the hands of people, will allow us to increase our success in the future.
"Regards?" Really? We started at OKCupid stalker, and you're ending at "over-eager candidate for summer internship?" Well, okay. Sure. Whatever. Not like it matters.
This reminded me of Geoff Pullum's classic review of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code:
I am still trying to come up with a fully convincing account of just what it was about his very first sentence, indeed the very first word, that told me instantly that I was in for a very bad time stylistically.
The Da Vinci Code may well be the only novel ever written that begins with the word renowned. Here is the paragraph with which the book opens. The scene (says a dateline under the chapter heading, 'Prologue') is the Louvre, late at night:
Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.
I think what enabled the first word to tip me off that I was about to spend a number of hours in the company of one of the worst prose stylists in the history of literature was this. Putting curriculum vitae details into complex modifiers on proper names or definite descriptions is what you do in journalistic stories about deaths; you just don't do it in describing an event in a narrative.
Then there's Mark Twain on "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses":
"The Pathfinder" and "The Deerslayer" stand at the head of Cooper's novels as artistic creations. There are others of his works which contain parts as perfect as are to be found in these, and scenes even more thrilling. Not one can be compared with either of them as a finished whole. The defects in both of these tales are comparatively slight. They were pure works of art. –Professor Lounsbury
The five tales reveal an extraordinary fullness of invention. … One of the very greatest characters in fiction, Natty Bumppo… The craft of the woodsman, the tricks of the trapper, all the delicate art of the forest were familiar to Cooper from his youth up. –Professor Matthews
Cooper is the greatest artist in the domain of romantic fiction in America. –Wilkie Collins
It seems to me that it was far from right for the Professor of English Literature at Yale, the Professor of English Literature in Columbia, and Wilkie Collins to deliver opinions on Cooper's literature without having read some of it. It would have been much more decorous to keep silent and let persons talk who have read Cooper.
Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in "Deerslayer," and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.
Nearly forty years ago, Nora Ephron drew a bead on Brendan Gill, whose memoir, Here at The New Yorker, had just been published, to considerable praise.
Nora Ephron was a crack shot.
Ephron on Gill is by itself a good enough reason to buy the collection that essay is reprinted in. Here's how Ephron's review begins:
Brendan Gill’s Here at The New Yorker was issued to coincide exactly with the fiftieth anniversary of The New Yorker magazine, and, as such, it became The Event of the anniversary, an occasion for critics to pat the magazine on the back and, in addition, to undo some of the devastation that was heaped on it and its editor, William Shawn, some ten years ago, when Tom Wolfe took them all on in the Herald Tribune’s New York magazine. The New Yorker has come through this round with garlands, and so has Gill’s book. It is a charming book, the critics say.
The people who work at The New Yorker do not think Brendan Gill’s book is charming, but they try to be nice about it. The ethic of Nice is, in its way, as much an editorial principle at The New Yorker as the ethic of Mean is at New York magazine, and you can see, when you bring up the subject of Gill’s book, that the people who work with Gill really want to be polite about it. What they generally say is that they would not object so much if only Gill had presented it simply as a memoir, or if he had made it clear that he knew nothing whatever about The New Yorker after the death of Harold Ross, or if he had managed not to publish it at a time calculated to cash in on the anniversary. Any of these things would help, they say. Well, I don’t know that any of this would help. Here at The New Yorker seems to me one of the most offensive books I have read in a long time.
Brendan Gill is now sixty and went to work at the magazine in 1938, and someone I know there suggested to me that he arrived too late to understand its early years, and too soon to understand the late ones. That is unfair: the explanation for Gill’s insensitivity probably lies more in his character than in bad timing. Gill’s character is the shall-I-compare-me-to-a-summer’s-day variety: he is a joyous, happy man, he tells us, who has never suffered a day’s pain in his life. Compared to other New Yorker writers, whom he describes as unsociable moles, he is uncommonly gregarious and fun-loving. He attends five or six parties a week. “I am acquainted with far more people out in the world than anyone else on The New Yorker,” he writes. Life has been a lark. He was born into comparative wealth, went to Yale, made Skull and Bones (an achievement he mentions a half-dozen times), had a rich father to aid him in the purchases of his town houses and mansions and country homes, several of which are actually pictured in his book. The smug self-congratulation of all this extends to his professional achievements. “In sheer quantity of output— most trivial of measurements!— I am by now something of a nonpareil,” he writes.
I'm not a fan of snark for snark's sake, but I feel that Elop, Brown, Cooper, and Gill earned these reviews.
What are your favorite critical takedowns?
The Dilbert strip continues to make me laugh out loud almost every morning. If you missed the day when the boss asked Dilbert for an "honest assessment" of his leadership, go back to it and catch up. Dilbert's 30-minute response to this invitation ended with the words "like being stabbed by an angry clown while drowning in a septic tank." Simile of the week, for sure. I wonder if anyone told Microsoft's Satya Nadella anything similar in the past few days.
Hardcover, 232 pagesBorrowed from the library
Read June 2014
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