Shared posts

16 May 09:43

A simple truth

by Mo

Source: Facebook, with thanks to Lynda.

13 May 17:53

Ban the Concept of the “Bandwagon Fan”

by Erin Robertson

(Why? It’s sexist, of course.)

Image: Eric Kilby

In April, the Cincinnati Reds “trolled” the Cubs with an in-game Bandwagon Cam showing Cubs fans in attendance. The video clip to start it off? Two young female fans labeled “Life long Cubs fans since 2016.”

Now, they took it all in good stride, and of course, the whole bit was in jest — a jab at a very, very good team from one that’s, well, pretty bad. But, even so, what happened to those two young women? That’s my nightmare.

In 2005, I moved back to Chicago from California. That October, my University of Chicago dormmates and I huddled around a grainy, rabbit-eared television as the White Sox swept the Astros in the World Series.

Zoom in. That’s a White Sox Winning Ugly cap on my bib.

I come from a White Sox family, with a grandfather who worked for the organization for decades and memorabilia that blended into the background of our house’s decor. Still, I hadn’t followed as a kid, just lazily soaked in the baseball waters that surrounded me, and I feared being seen as a casual fan, a latcher-on. I quietly saved a copy of the Chicago Tribune in my memories box and returned to my normal patterns as though I were still living in a pre-White Sox World Series Champions world. I didn’t dare dream of becoming a real fan because I was just a lifelong fan since 2005 — this despite the fact that I literally wore a White Sox bib as a baby.

Google “bandwagon fans women” and one of the first things you get is this, about all of the female fans flocking to rugby during the most recent World Cup year. But are they really “bandwagon” fans? Or are they fans historically shut out of a locker room culture that only lets them in for high-profile events? Being a female fan is inherently fraught. There are the quizzes that don’t end unless you can list the entire makeup of the NL East in 10 seconds or less, the pink v-neck jerseys, and bedazzled hats — all of which you’ll get mocked for, even though there’s no way to avoid them.

So, being a new fan as a female — perhaps a new fan to a team that is suddenly hot, because why wouldn’t you want to follow a World Series Champion? — is nearly impossible. For one, a new fan probably won’t know that the Expos were once in the NL East, a tidbit of information that hasn’t enhanced my understanding of the game at all. For another, the National Federation of State High School Associations estimates that just around one quarter of one percent of high school baseball participants were girls during the 2014–2015 school year. (I’ll let you imagine what that statistic might be for America’s current reigning pastime, football.) And softball, where we divert eager female little leaguers starting in adolescence, is a drastically different sport requiring an entirely distinct mechanical form and style of play, as has been pointed out by women time and again. What all of this creates is a culture that often cuts off women from participating in baseball fandom, and then sneers at them for their lack of knowledge.

Meanwhile, the MLB Commissioner is pushing an aggressive agenda to rebuild major league baseball’s shrinking fanbase through controversial, and somewhat dubious, initiatives. At the same time, the organizations he presides over are promoting an atmosphere that punishes new fans just for being new. Following the Bandwagon Cam, FanRag Sport’s Alex Solokoff put out a rallying cry in favor of bandwagon fans, joining an increasing line of pro-bandwagon sports writers who argue against the condescending attitude traditional fans have toward their newer counterparts. If we add in that many of those new fans — like the lifelong Cubs fans since 2016 — are women trying to break into a good ol’ boys sports club, the whole thing appears even more toxic.

I can’t explain the creepy doll, but I can explain the awesome ruffled Chicago jersey.

I am here for criticizing Cubs fandom. I’m a South Side fan, after all. But you can do that without criticizing new fans: Cubs fans are notoriously ripe for the picking. The slipping MLB needs bandwagon fans, and our society needs to stop criticizing women for enthusiastically participating in things they haven’t before had access to.

This year, my mom and I sat in record-breaking Arizona heat to watch the prospect-heavy White Sox at Spring Training. It took me a decade, but I’d finally embraced my passion for the team I’d grown up with: a “true” fan who now closely follows every game, despite how far the Good Guys are from World Series contention. So, yeah, it’s possible those two girls the Reds profiled are bandwagon fans. So am I.

Erin Robertson is a freelance editor and writer living in California.

Ban the Concept of the “Bandwagon Fan” was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

12 May 17:41

Labels are not the Enemy

by (Jen)
I made a little web graphic about something that keeps coming up in conversations around bisexuality both in person and online.

While labels are optional, too often they seem to catch the blame for another thing's misdeeds.

(shareable online from here on twitter, here on tumblr, here on facebook)
11 May 10:10

auli’i cravalho’s name


for those of you having difficulty pronouncing her name, the apostrophe in her first name is not actually an apostrophe! its a bit of hawaiian punctuation called an ʻokina. because hawaiian tends to be very vowel-heavy and can have multiple consecutive vowel sounds with no consonants dividing them, the ‘okina serves an indicator of a pause between vowel sounds (a glottal stop if we’re being technical).

so auli’i would be pronounced like OW-LEE-EE rather than OW-LEE. cravalho is likely an anglicization of the portuguese surname, carvalho, which makes sense because hawaii has a pretty large portuguese population. (for example, i have a friend who’s last name, loui, is a messed up attempt at anglicizing the chinese name, liu).

usually the ‘okina is removed from hawaiian words outside of hawaii to avoid confusing people who are unfamiliar with the language’s conventions. for example, hawaii would actually be hawai’i, ohana would be ‘ohana, and luau would be lu’au (there’s actually supposed to be a straight bar above the first ‘u’ called a kahako, which lengthens and emphasizes the vowel, but im too lazy to try to format that lol).

and that concludes this linguistic primer on hawaiian punctuation, have a great day y’all.

11 May 01:18

Linguist twitter had some fun with the wordplay possibilities of...

Linguist twitter had some fun with the wordplay possibilities of the newly-elected French president, Emmanuel Macron

11 May 01:11

It’s harder to follow the various forks in a conversational...

It’s harder to follow the various forks in a conversational thread on tumblr than on twitter, but maybe that’s why we need the word “elsefork” anyway

03 May 01:35

Why Are Women Obsessed With True Crime?

by anna dorn

There are TV shows, podcasts, and now entire channels dedicated to female-focused murders—is it one big revenge fantasy?

Image: Lwp Kommunikáció

During the season finale of Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules,” Queen Bee Stassi Schroeder confronts Cool Girl Ariana Madix about why Ariana doesn’t like her (Stassi’s opener: “Why don’t you ever put me in your snapchats?”) The girls are beyond drunk, and Ariana responds by crying about her upcoming cocktail book. Stassi is thrilled to see Ariana vulnerable and comforts her, which Ariana appreciates. Beginning to show a soft side toward Stassi, Ariana says during a conciliatory cheers: “And don’t say I’m mean. I’m not mean. I’ll fucking kill you.”

Stassi takes a greedy sip of her beer, lighting up: “How would you do it?”

Ariana responds, “Well, it would be slow.” Stassi chuckles, delighted. “Because if I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna make it hurt.”

“Well maybe we have more in common than we think,” Stassi says, “because I like the thought of murdering people too.”

“I mean, if we couldn’t go to jail — ” Ariana begins.

“ — Hashtag murder,” Stassi interrupts. “For life. But like the number — ”

Now the women are speaking simultaneously, outlining the hashtag with their fingers: “4-L-Y-F-E.”

Stassi goes, “are we the same person?” The girls break out into wild laughter.

From self-proclaimed addictions to “Law & Order” and “My Favorite Murder,” to bizarre drunken reality TV power plays, it seems women are obsessed with murder. Or at least the idea of it. I’m a criminal defense attorney who has worked on murder cases, and I fully understand the tendency toward dark humor when dealing with traumatic subject matter: it’s sometimes necessary to stay sane. But it’s always struck me as odd the way women flippantly and delightedly confess an obsession with murder, as though revealing a salacious sexual fetish. And when Stassi and Ariana simultaneously uttered “#Murder4Lyfe,” I knew I needed to figure out what the hell was going on.

A 2010 study published by Social Psychological and Personality Science found that higher numbers of women are fans of true crime than men. Accordingly, crime fiction shows like “Law & Order: SVU,” “CSI,” and “Bones,” all boast a majority of women viewers. (Hell, Taylor Swift even named her cat Olivia Benson after “Law & Order”’s protagonist, and then went on to cast the actress Mariska Hartigay in her “Bad Blood” video.) Investigation Discovery (ID), a network that features documentary-style true crime shows mostly of a violent nature, is one of women’s most-watched cable networks on television. The female-focused Oxygen Network recently rebranded to focus on true-crime programming in order to remain competitive, phasing out shows like “Bad Girls Club” in favor of weekly podcasts like “Martinis and Murder.” The podcast “My Favorite Murder,” which is hosted by two women, hit the number 1 spot on the iTunes comedy list just five months after launching in the beginning of 2016.

A recent Atlantic article attributed women’s interest in “My Favorite Murder” and similar media to the “shadow hypothesis,” or the idea that the fear of sexual assault pervades women’s thinking and makes us more fearful generally. While it is unlikely that we or someone we know will be murdered by a stranger, it very likely we or someone we know has been or will be subjected to sexual violence from an intimate partner. Francine Prose wrote that beneath the “frothy, sexy” exterior of HBO’s recent hit “Big Little Lies,” the show conveys “a message about the prevalence of overt and hidden violence against women.” And even if we aren’t subjected to explicit violence, scholar Andrea Dworkin wrote that “penetrative intercourse is, by its nature, violent;” Catherine MacKinnon argued that it is “difficult to distinguish” rape from ordinary intercourse “under conditions of male dominance.”

One theory for the popularity of these shows among women is that after years of social conditioning to be agreeable and passive in the face of constant aggressions from the men they know, watching unfamiliar male perpetrators swiftly and harshly punished by the criminal justice system is a compelling narrative. Furthermore, women can position themselves as the aggressors (in a fictional world where they can “get away with it”) — a la Stassi and Ariana — for the same reason: a revenge fantasy or a sort of inverse Freudian sublimation of the threat.

The Atlantic article declared that women are drawn to these shows and podcasts as a way to ease our anxiety and to prepare us for real-life threats. In 2015, Julianne Escobedo Shepard chronicled her own ID addiction for Jezebel, describing a summer in which she watched the network “in what was almost a state of hypnosis.” As she “became more enthralled,” the “anxiety kicked in” — her dreams became filled with “vague threats in dark shrouds,” her days spent latching locks, “convinced that it was my fate to die horribly at the hands of an evil stranger with a violent past.” The words felt familiar as I read them, as I recall a similar summer — one in which I spent my days with my childhood best friend and true crime addict. Together, we would watch Dateline, 48 Hours, SVU for full days while nibbling dry cereal under blankets on the couch.

I thought the habit was harmless. In fact, I felt closer to my friend. Then one night I left her house to get sushi and became convinced someone in the restaurant was hatching a plan to kill me. My brain concocted an intricate plot, compelling me to wait in the bathroom until I could see his car leave through a crack in the window. I had developed true crime anxiety and, like Escobedo Shepard, I realized it was time to take it “down a notch.” But without the binge-watching, I no longer wanted to watch these shows at all. The obsession was part of the fun.

Psychology Today declared that from a neurological perspective, true crime narratives can be addictive to viewers:

People [] receive a jolt of adrenaline as a reward for witnessing the terrible deeds of a serial killer. Adrenaline is a hormone that produces a powerful, stimulating and even addictive effect on the human brain[….] The euphoric effect of serial killers on human emotions is similar to that of roller coasters or natural disasters.

Escobedo Shepard spoke to a fellow ID Addict from Florida, who admitted to watching the network “all day every day.” She explained the shows keep her “on her guard — especially being a single woman, it keeps me more aware to know what to watch out for.” Anna Breslaw likewise told The Atlantic that she “exorcis[es]” her “anxiety through obsessively reading about true crime.”

Social scientist Amanda Vicary worries that indulging a true crime addiction will only increase viewers’ anxiety, in turn creating “vicious cycle.” Vicary believes the media helps feed this paranoia: “we hear about women getting raped and killed, and we want to know more — possibly as an unconscious way to help us survive if something were to happen to us or to prevent something from happening — and in turn, we end up reading more and more about women being killed, fueling the paranoia.” The “My Favorite Murder” hosts feed this paranoia by concluding at the end of every show: “stay sexy and don’t get murdered.”

“My Favorite Murder”’s implicit thesis is that by being smart and fierce, women can protect ourselves from random attacks from rapists and murderers. The hosts have recounted the story of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, who would lure his female victims by pretending to have a broken arm and needing help carrying his bags. Essentially, he attracted his female victims by playing into our conditioning to be polite. Accordingly, “Fuck politeness” is emblazoned on podcast merch.

While the idea that women should eschew their training to be agreeable in order to protect ourselves can be a powerful feminist statement, it becomes dangerous when we’re told the consequence is random attacks from serial killers. One of the hosts of “My Favorite Murder” frequently admits to rarely leaving the house. If these programs create anxiety to the point that women end up staying inside, they paradoxically reaffirm women’s place in the home — encouraging the very power imbalance that renders women vulnerable in the first place. Studies show that women are more likely to fear violent crime, despite that statistically men are more likely to be victims. Likewise, in the most publicized cases, the victim is a middle class white woman saved by a white man, and as Tara McKelvey wrote for the BBC, the “perception of victimhood is partly a media creation.”

Author Ariana Reines powerfully concluded in her blurb of Joni Murphy’s 2016 novel Double Teenage, which follows the lives of two girls coming of age in the 1990s: “Are dead women the only kind our culture wants or understands?” Early in the novel, the protagonist watches “Law & Order” every week with her father. She falls into the “comforting rhythm” of a “brutal attack” followed by a “swift rotation of justice.” I recently spoke to Murphy, who called the weekly procedural a “systems project” that repeatedly affirms that the cops and the DA are “doing their best” and “they know how to find the guilty person.” This is particularly comforting in a world where a Stanford athlete drunkenly rapes an unconscious woman found in an alley and is disciplined as leniently as though he were caught underage drinking. But anyone who has worked in or even read about criminal defense knows the way true crime shows portray the justice system is gravely unrealistic. In many murder cases, guilt is elusive. There are rarely eyewitnesses; even if there are, memory is imperfect. Forensic science is unreliable. There is no obvious “good guy,” no one is “evil.” Victims and perpetrators alike are poor victims of a system that repeatedly fails to protect them.

Murphy sees “Law & Order” and its spinoffs as offering “utter predictability” where none normally exists — “It is very black and white, a world without much nuance or history or deep humanity.” She also noted that shows like “Law & Order” are told from a male perspective, meaning that women watching “must watch through the male gaze to see characters they might identify with.” The general message these shows is: “you must trust the (male) structures to solve the crimes that will inexplicably happen to you.”

The tongue-in-cheek approach of My Favorite Murder, Martinis & Murder, #Murder4Lyfe is a turn away from the earnest “black-and-white” justice of “Law & Order.” Stassi and Ariana flip the narrative so that they position themselves not with the victim, but with the perpetrator. A recent interview with the My Favorite Murder girls played out similarly:

“As to the future of My Favorite Murder, well… “I think I want to start killing people,” Kilgariff deadpans. “I could get away with it, too.”

“Start with me! That’s the final episode,” jokes Hardstark.

But all versions derive from the same place: a fantasy about experiencing agency, having control over what is done with and to our bodies, unleashing the aggression we’ve been conditioned to keep bottled up. The problem is they’re all stuck in the “victim/aggressor mode” — as Murphy told me: “Liberation […] can’t just be a switching but a reorganization and move away from these binaries that cause suffering.” In an era in which the threat to women’s bodies is more intense than ever, it’s time we start examining women’s addiction to terror-inducing true crime programming — in which a fictitiously efficient and male-dominated justice system enacts revenge over dead women — with a more critical eye.

Anna Dorn is a writer and attorney living in Los Angeles.

Why Are Women Obsessed With True Crime? was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

03 May 01:22

Why Not This Idea: Dogs Can Talk For 25 Minutes Per Day

by Kelly Conaboy

This sounds like a very Andrew idea.

Just to check in.


I was thinking about this last week. Why aren’t dogs able to talk for 25 minutes per day? They should be allowed. It’s not much to ask. This way you would be able to check in and see how their day was, among other things.

Well, OK. Right away you know what the problem is. If dogs could talk for 25 minutes per day, would they be aware of the fact that they can only talk for 25 minutes per day throughout the rest of the day and feel trapped inside of their own minds until they’re finally allowed to briefly speak? Well, no. You’re in luck. No. Everything would be normal the rest of the time. They would just be their normal dog selves, until suddenly they were able to speak to you for 25 minutes.

Would they have a dog brain during the speaking time, or would they have more of a human brain? Scientifically speaking. And what language would they speak? Two good questions. They would have sort of a combo dog/human brain, so they were able to communicate with you while maintaining a certain dog-ness, and they would speak whatever language their owner speaks.

When would they speak? Well, this might cause a few hiccups. Normally it would be towards the end of the day but really it wouldn’t have a schedule and you certainly wouldn’t be able to plan for it. If you’re out for the speaking time — maybe you’re at work, or in the shower, or wherever — you’re sunk for that day, and you don’t even know it for sure until the day is over. That would be “ruff,” ;), especially if you needed to talk about something important.

But if you were around for speaking time, not only would the dog be able to communicate how his day was, etc., to you, you would also be able to tell him about your day (he won’t care) and ask him questions. “I heard you do a cough noise earlier. Are you feeling OK?” “Are you sad?” “Am I making your life worse than it would be if you had another person taking care of you, do you think, because maybe I’m not fun enough or you just don’t like me?” “Do you think I’m a failure professionally?” “What about I’ll tell you my age, then you tell me if you think I’m a failure.” “Did you hear that loud bird this morning?” etc.

Dogs could also tattle on their owners if they were mistreating them. Could they tattle on their owners if they saw that their owners were doing something like cheating on their wives? No. But maybe you should be afraid of that anyway, because maybe they could.

Some of you are wondering if, during the speaking time, you would be able to explain commands to the dog that you would otherwise have to teach him through normal dog methods. No. Dogs won’t remember what goes on during the speaking times; you’re not establishing a history this way. It’s just a check-in. You’ll need to teach your dog “sit” the normal dog way. However, when you do speak with him you can compliment him on his sitting.

What else? Maybe you’re worried that your dog won’t like you and that he’ll be mean to you during his 25 minutes. That would be “ruff,” ;), but I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I bet he likes you fine. And if he doesn’t, maybe he can tell you what you’re doing wrong that’s making him hate you and you can fix that about yourself. Maybe you’re annoying, etc. Maybe you’re selfish. It could be very good for you to hear things like this from a dog and then adjust.

If you tell him “I love you” during the talking period, will he understand what you mean? Yes, and over time he will remember the feeling he gets when you tell him, so when you say it throughout the day he will also understand. This may seem like it doesn’t align with the rule that you can’t teach dogs things during the speaking time because they can’t remember, but actually it has nothing to do with that. OK? It’s just about feeling, and love.

So, that’s the idea.


Why Not A One-Mug Microwave?
Why Not Ten-Ball Soccer?

Why Not This Idea: Dogs Can Talk For 25 Minutes Per Day was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

03 May 01:18

Discovery May Help Decipher Ancient Inca String Code

Discovery May Help Decipher Ancient Inca String Code:


A discovery made in a remote mountain village high in the Peruvian Andes suggests that the ancient Inca used accounting devices made of knotted, colored strings for more than accounting.

The devices, called khipus (pronounced kee-poos), used combinations of knots to represent numbers and were used to inventory stores of corn, beans, and other provisions. Spanish accounts from colonial times claim that Inca khipus also encoded history, biographies, and letters, but researchers have yet to decipher any non-numerical meaning in the chords and knots.

Now a pair of khipus protected by Andean elders since colonial times may offer fresh clues for understanding how more elaborate versions of the devices could have stored and relayed information.


Anthropologist Sabine Hyland studies a khipu board, a colonial-era invention that incorporated earlier Inca technology.

“What we found is a series of complex color combinations between the chords,” says Sabine Hyland, professor of anthropology at St. Andrews University in Scotland and a National Geographic Explorer. “The chords have 14 different colors that allow for 95 unique chord patterns. That number is within the range of symbols in logosyllabic writing systems.”

Hyland theorizes that specific combinations of colored strings and knots may have represented syllables or words. Her analysis of the khipus appears in the journal Current Anthropology.


Hyland made her discovery in the Andean village of San Juan de Collata when village elders invited her to study two khipus the community has carefully preserved for generations. Village leaders said the khipus were “narrative epistles about warfare created by local chiefs,” Hyland reports.

The khipus were stored in a wooden box that until recently was kept secret from outsiders. In addition to the khipus, the box contained dozens of letters dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. Most of the documents are official correspondence between village leaders and the Spanish colonial government concerning land rights.

Spanish chroniclers noted that Inca runners carried khipus as letters, and evidence suggests that the Inca composed khipu letters to ensure secrecy during rebellions against the Spanish, according to Hyland.


A khipu from the Andean village of San Juan de Collata may contain information about the village’s history.

“The Collata khipus are the first khipus ever reliably identified as narrative epistles by the descendants of their creators,” Hyland writes in her analysis. She notes that they are larger and more complex than typical accounting versions, and unlike most khipus, which were made of cotton, the Collata khipus were made from the hair and fibers of Andean animals, including vicuna, alpaca, guanaco, llama, deer, and the rodent vizcacha.

Animal fibers accept and retain dyes better than cotton, and so they provided a more suitable medium for khipus that used color as well as knots to store and convey information.

In fact several variables—including color, fiber type, even the direction of the chords’ weave or ply—encode information, villagers told Hyland, so that reading the khipus requires touch as well as sight.

Hyland cites a Spanish chronicler who claimed that khupus made from animal fiber “exhibited a diversity of vivid colors and could record historical narratives with the same ease as European books.”


The Collata khipus are believed to date from the mid-18th century, more than 200 years after Spanish colonizers first arrived in 1532. This raises the question whether they are a relatively recent innovation, spurred on by contact with alphabetic writing, or whether they bear a close similarity to earlier narrative khipus.

“These findings are historically very interesting, but time is a big problem,” says Harvard anthropologist Gary Urton. “Whether or not we can take these findings and project them into the past, that remains the big question.”

A few years ago, Urton and Peruvian archaeologist Alejandro Chudiscovered a trove of khipus in what may have been a khipu workshop or possibly a repository of Inca records.


Deciphering patterns hidden within the devices may eventually become the work of computers, Urton says. He and his Harvard colleagues maintain a digital repository called the Khipu Database that categorizes images, descriptions, and comparisons of more than 500 of the artifacts.

The Inca at their height may have made thousands of khipus, perhaps even hundreds of thousands. But archaeologists suspect that natural deterioration and European colonizers destroyed most of the devices. Fewer than 1,000 are known to exist today.

Hyland plans to return to Peru in July to resume her research. Last summer, on her last day of fieldwork, she met an elderly woman who said she remembered using khipus as a young girl. But before Hyland could ask more questions, the woman darted away to tend to her livestock.

Hyland’s goal is not only to solve a historical mystery, she says, but also to bring to light the “incredible intellectual accomplishments of Native American people.”

21 Apr 21:44

"Gretchen: It’s unlikely that you’d get a language that only has three colour terms and those terms..."

Gretchen: It’s unlikely that you’d get a language that only has three colour terms and those terms are turquoise, orange, and pink.

Lauren: Yeah, because that’s not covering a lot. I mean, it might be covering a lot of the colour space in your wardrobe but not for all speakers.

Gretchen: Admittedly there is a lot of turquoise  in my wardrobe.

Lauren: So it’s not surprising that late stage colours like pink and orange have really clear and recent etymologies in English compared to something like red or green or white. I remember when I learned this stuff in undergrad a friend of mine in the class just would not believe that you could cover brown, purple, and grey in one colour. She was just like “how could you have one word that covers all of those three??” And then one day she came to class and she was so excited and was like, “look, look at the scarf that I bought!” And it was true, you couldn’t tell, in certain contexts it looked brown and some contexts it looked purple and in some contexts it looked grey and that was her, like, theoretical proof those colours were close enough that it made sense to put them in one word.

Gretchen: Well the scarf actually brings us into an interesting point about why languages developed colour terms, which is that there’s often some relationship between produced goods whether that’s dyed fabrics or gemstones or other types of processed goods that people make into specific colours. Because if you’re thinking about the sky for example, you know, we say all the time the sky is blue, but it’s really not necessary to specify that the sky is blue. You can say the sky is dark or light, the sky is cloudy or clear, and if it’s clear and its light of course it’s blue! What other colour is it going to be? Or you can say something like the tree is living or the tree is dying, you don’t necessarily need to specify the tree is is green or that it’s red. In nature a lot of things only really come in one specific colour. Whereas once you start making cars you don’t say this car is ripe or it’s not ripe, or this car is cloudy or it’s clear, or this dress that you’re going to make is ripe or unripe or that this basket that you’re weaving is dyed a particular colour. Once you start dying stuff in colours it becomes more useful to talk about a finer variations or if you send someone to buy for you a particular thing in particular colour may want to specify exactly what that colours going be once you start colouring stuff artificially.

Lauren: So certain technological innovations can give rise to the necessity for finer distinctions and colour terms.

Gretchen: And some colour terms are etymologically linked to specific things that created those colours. Purple, for example, is linked to the name of the particular mollusc that was used to make purple dye back around ancient Greece.

Gretchen: I came across a women in Eastern Europe where specifically the older women had more colour terms related to traditional dyeing methodology for textiles, whereas the younger women had become disconnected from traditional dyeing terminology for textiles and could no longer identify words like madder and russet and stuff like this that are used in traditional terms – they tended to use more industrialised colour terms. This seems to be one of those “if you use it you get more words for it” areas, like with any specialised domain.

Lauren: Yeah, there’s a professional vocabulary distinction to be made there as well. I do remember reading something, and again we’re into uncited anec-data here, but I do remember reading something that said professionals can discriminate with more technical words, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they see more colours than people who don’t have these professional words. So you might give people two similar colour chips. And someone who does fabric work will say “that’s magenta and that’s russet,” whereas someone who doesn’t have to discriminate will be like, “Well, this one’s rustier and this one’s richer red.” They can still see the difference. It’s not like not having the word prevents you. Or, people who I’m friends with in Nepal who predominantly speak a language that doesn’t have a blue-green distinction, they still see the distinction, they still prefer fabric in one colour over another one.

Gretchen: Yeah, if you’re painting your bedroom yellow, you’re not going to be like, “I dunno, all yellows look the same to me” – you probably care whether it’s like a lemon yellow or a butter yellow or a golden yellow.

- Excerpt from Episode 5 of Lingthusiasm: Colour words around the world and inside your brain. Listen to the full episode, read the transcript, or check out the show notes for links to further reading.
(via lingthusiasm)
05 Apr 00:17

Reasons You Were Paid Less Than A Male Coworker With The Same Job, Ranked

by Kelly Conaboy

A listicle without commentary.


9. This was an oversight, more due to our inattentiveness than to anything else. I hope you understand that.

8. And I want you to know that this isn’t some wide-reaching thing; there isn’t a pattern of women being under-compensated at our company. This is an isolated incident and we’re going to see if there’s some way to rectify it, at least somewhat.

7. But, at the same time, I do want you to know that although you have more experience, technically, that’s not all that’s taken into account when determining someone’s salary. People have different tasks and roles and needs, etc. You understand.

6. I’m not saying that justifies anything, but I wouldn’t take your salary so personally. There are other things to consider.

5. What I’m trying to say is, it’s not because your coworker “is a man.” Again, not that the other considerations taken into account to justify paying your male coworker with the same job more than what we pay you justifies anything!

4. But it’s not something to get upset about. And we’re going to see if we can try to do something that might fix this somewhat, in the coming months.

3. What I need you to remember, though, is that you have a great job here. This isn’t something you’re going to be able to get somewhere else; what we offer you is invaluable.

2. This isn’t to say that you should be “grateful,” we wouldn’t say that. But you should think about what leaving would mean for your career.

1. And anyway, he negotiated!

Reasons You Were Paid Less Than A Male Coworker With The Same Job, Ranked was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

03 Apr 09:20

speibecken: Lakoff argues that the very things career coaches advise women to cut out of their...


Lakoff argues that the very things career coaches advise women to cut out of their speech are actually signs of highly evolved communication. When we use words like so, I guess, like, actually, and I mean, we are sending signals to the listener to help them figure out what’s new, what’s important, or what’s funny. We’re connecting with them. “Rather than being weakeners or signs of fuzziness of mind, as is often said, they create cohesion and coherence between what speaker and hearer together need to accomplish — understanding and sharing,” Lakoff says. “This is the major job of an articulate social species. If women use these forms more, it is because we are better at being human.”

Language is not always about making an argument or conveying information in the cleanest, simplest way possible. It’s often about building relationships.

A quote from the article “Can We Just Like, Get Over the Way Women Talk?” which is worth reading in full.

03 Apr 09:09


by Ben Zimmer

There's a wonderful new podcast on linguistic matters that I highly recommend to all Language Log readers. It's called Lingthusiasm, and it's appropriately billed as "a podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics." The podcast is co-hosted by Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. You may know Gretchen from her All Things Linguistic blog or her posts on The (dearly departed) Toast about Internet language. Lauren is a postdoctoral fellow at SOAS and blogs at Superlinguo. There have been six episodes so far, and they're all worth a listen.

    • Episode 6: All the sounds in all the languages – The International Phonetic Alphabet (audio, links)

You can listen on iTunes, SoundcloudYouTube or other podcast apps via rss. Lingthusiasm is also on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Update: If you'd like to support Lingthusiasm, check out their Patreon page.

03 Apr 09:07


by lynneguist

What people think about language doesn't tell us much about language. It does tell us a lot about identity

We've been having some problems with people starting to (jocular Linguist English) peeve about unrelated topics in the comments section. This has upset some readers (and also me, but I'm hardened by 11 years of blogging). More importantly it is against the comments policy, so I've had to resume being a police-y person about it. If you'd like to request a topic for the blog, please feel free to email me (see contact page). If you'd like to just let off opinion-steam, there are lots of places on the web for that. Here, we're trying to get away from the opinions and into the facts.

So, in the interest of the comments policy, I've just deleted a comment on a previous post. Having already checked out whether the assumptions in the comment were fact or fiction, I might as well make it into a blog post. I know that this is a bad idea. I don't want to set up the precedent that topic-changing comments will get immediate blog-treatment. But, it's Saturday morning and my resistance is low.

So, Rob commented on the last blog post:
It's My first time on this blog and as an amateur aficionado of grammar, I love what you've done to the place. I just wanted to share my biggest AmE-BrE bugbear:

My teeth are set a-grinding when I hear the words "tenaciousness", "ferociousness" or any word where there is an "ousness" added, largely by North Americans (to include Canada to a certain extent). I find myself shouting at the screen when I heard it for the first time.

It's not even that "ferociousness" gives a deeper description of the property. You can BE ferocious but should you exhibit ferociousness or display ferocity? I know which one I would rather hear. The same for tenacity. It suggests a certain rawness (I know. Ironic, right?) that "tenaciousness" just detracts from, yet I know the "ousness" phenomenon is grammatically legal. It just sounds lazy to me.

At the risk of inciting a blaze - what does everyone else think?

First, thanks for the compliment, Rob, and I hope we'll see more of you around here. But now I'm a-gonna get grumpy. What people think about language doesn't tell us much about language. It does tell us a lot about identity (and the role of language in forging it) and about cognitive biases in thinking about language and people. This is the theme of the book I'm sending off to the publishers at the end of April (which is not planned for publication till 2018, so [orig. AmE] don't hold your breath!).

As Rob notes, -ness is a productive suffix in English. which means it's legal to put with adjectives, even those Latin/French-derived ones that might be associated with other suffixed noun forms. Plenty of -ous adjectives are mainly nominalized (made into nouns) with -ness -- for example, consciousness, callousness, and righteousness (though that one isn't French/Latin in origin, just French-affected). Then there's suspiciousness--which generally means something different from the related noun suspicion. Those nouns are normal in British and American English, so there's nothing bad about ousness in itself.

In other cases, as Rob notes, there are other, usually French/Latin-derived, nouns that don't use -ness and that often are quite (BrE) different in form to the -ous adjective. But contrary to Rob's presumption, adding -ness to these things does not seem to be a particularly American activity. In the GloWBE corpus, we find similar rates in BrE and AmE for anxiousness (rather than anxiety) and pretentiousness (rather than pretension), for instance.

So what about Rob's examples of tenaciousness and ferociousness? For each of these, GloWBE has a statistically insignificant difference between the two national dialects--5 and 7 in AmE, 6 and 8 in BrE, respectively (raw numbers, from a collection of about 450 million words from each of those countries). These--in both countries--are outnumbered at least 100-fold by their counterparts tenacity and ferocity. In the News on the Web (NoW) corpus, there are 0.4 ferociousnesses per million words (pmw) in AmE, 0.3 in BrE (but .15 in Pakistan, by far the most). For tenaciousness it's 0.2 in AmE and 0.1 in BrE. (Sri Lanka "wins" with 0.4.)

Image from here
What's a bit interesting is that all of the related words (tenacious, tenacity, tenacously, ferocious, etc.) are found (sometimes significantly) more in the British data than the American. For example in NoW, ferocity occurs 1.05 pmw in AmE and 1.71 in BrE, and ferocious 2.29 in AmE and 4.62 in BrE. Americans use the words a fair amount, but Brits use them much more. Lower numbers set up a situation where using a more transparent morphological (i.e. suffixation) process is more likely to happen. (We see that even more strongly in newer Englishes as in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.) But the UK/US differences in occurrence in ferocity and tenacity are very small, if they're there at all.

The -ity forms sound more "learnéd" because they are generally learn{ed/t} through exposure, rather than derived (orig. BrE slang) on the fly. People like those -ity nouns because they are a sign of a big vocabulary. But they're also a bit of a (BrE) faff. That is to say, they come at a cognitive cost. You have to keep them in your mental dictionary and understand that they are related to the adjective forms even though they have different vowels (compare the a and o in tenacious/tenacity, ferocious/ferocity). The -ness forms can be derived at the spur of the moment. Anyone has access to them. They are, I'd say, a bit more democratic.
The low, low numbers for the -ousness versions of these nouns mean that you'll hear the -ity versions more in any accent. The similar numbers of -ousness versions probably mean that if you regularly hear one accent more, you're more likely to have heard the -ousness form in that accent. But when we hear something unusual in an accent that isn't ours (and especially in a variety of English that's regularly accused of [AmE] messing with English), we notice it more. There's a lot of confirmation bias going on in people's (orig. AmE) peeves or bugbears about other people's language.

On a final note (oh, I can't believe I've spent the hour I was supposed to spend on something else this morning!), I was surprised to learn that US and UK use precocity at similar rates and much more than precociousness. I always feel like I'm using a joke-word [like the AmE ridiculosity] when I say it.

(P.S. for Rob:  I haven't preserved the link to your Google page from the original comment--but if you want to be identified, let me know and I'll stick a link in.)
03 Apr 08:50

"The experience of becoming conscious of previously unconscious phenomena is one of the principal..."

“The experience of becoming conscious of previously unconscious phenomena is one of the principal joys of linguistic work.”

- Wallace Chafe (via)
03 Apr 00:01

Bringing It Back Up

by Ethel Rohan

On acceptance.

Image: Renato Guerreiro

At breakfast, in a bright, San Francisco diner, over scrambled eggs and golden hash browns, a friend tells me about her blind, anorexic co-worker. “It’s really not about what’s in the mirror, it’s about control,” she finishes. I nod. I get it.

Michael Guiney’s, North Earl Street, Dublin, Ireland. The only shop in the city with clothes big enough to fit my mother. Upstairs, second floor, left at the entrance, and left again into the far, dim, recessed corner. Then straight to the end of the four racks of “plus” polyester dresses, to find the few size 30s on offer, the largest available. This was the mid ’80s, when obese in Ireland was still a rarity.

On good days, those scarce dresses hung in bright colors and bore a pattern — floral or tiny polka dots. Otherwise, it was dark, mute solids. At home, I cut slits into the dresses’ side seams the length of my mother’s deep-set ribcage, for more give. My mother forever wore woolen cardigans, to hide those scissor-ed rips that made her dresses fit.

“Do I look nice?” she asked.

“You look lovely,” I told her.

“Tell me again?” she asked, and again I told my blind mother the color and pattern of the new outfit she was wearing. She listened, smiling, and moved her hands over the buttons of her cardigans and across the thighs of those stretchy dresses with their happy hues, whimsical patterns, and secret gaping sides.

Obese, blind and mentally ill, clothes were one of the few pleasures my mother enjoyed in life. That pleasure, though, was nothing next to how much delight food gave her. She loved to feast on savory in particular, mostly mounds of potatoes spiked with salt and dampened with golden, melting butter. She also favored grease-stained, brown paper bags pregnant with fast food — oily fish burgers or fat, greasy sausages with chunky, salted, vinegar-drenched chips. She enjoyed sweet, too, and in particular chocolate, butterscotch toffee, and any dessert with dollops of fresh cream. Food filled her with good feelings, for a while. She always ate too fast, and with eager, shaky hands, her cheeks bulging. She would eat and eat and still ask, with such hope, “Is there more?”

My mother was terrible at being blind and excellent at being crazy, and both rendered her helpless and dependent. My dad, siblings and I catered to her every need. I, in particular, took care of her grooming. Her hair, nails, make up, right down to tweezing her face and giving her a bath. For practical and safety reasons, my mother sat on a white, plastic orthopedic chair inside the bathtub while I washed her. I can still see her standing naked by the tub, waiting for me to help her step inside the gaping oval of enamel — crouched, her meaty shoulders pulled to her ears, her arms covering her long breasts with an X.

Even when she sat on her chair inside the tub, while I sponged and lathered her body to white, rose-scented foam, she huddled, her arms trying to hide herself. “Relax,” I coaxed. “Sit back.” I eased her shoulders to straight, and lowered her arms so her hands were resting on her lap. Her palms always faced upwards, as if asking for something.

I rinsed the slick soap residue from her pale, bumpy skin with a steady rain of warm water. Her eyes closed, she sighed with feeling.

“Is that nice?” I asked.

“So nice,” she said.

I loved that in those moments she had enough. Loved that I’d given her that much at least.

And I hated it all, too.

As a girl, I was mousey, freckled, and sickly thin. Snappable. People called me beanpole. I looked as if I ate nothing. Like my mother, though, I loved fast food — fat, too-hot French fries and thick, greasy burgers between two white, grilled buns. I also filled myself on cakes, biscuits, chocolate, ice cream, and canned fruit in thick, sugary syrup. I mostly binged in my bedroom, alone and in secret. While I ate — fast, trembling, barely breathing, barely tasting — I felt comforted, rewarded, sated. After, I’d feel swollen. Sickened. Sore. Disgusting. Sometimes I let the food, and all those feelings, stay. More times I put my fingers down my throat and wiggled till I brought myself back to empty. There wasn’t much in my childhood I could control. Not my mother’s illness. Not that a family friend repeatedly molested me. I could, though, control the contents of my stomach.

For over two decades, I struggled with on-again-off-again bouts of binging and purging. When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I made us both a promise. I would never again stuff and empty myself. My daughter deserved better. I was not yet in a place where I believed I deserved better, too. And I stayed true to that oath. Through years of counseling and talk therapy that often felt unbearable (the memories and secrets did not want to be voiced), I made peace with so much — including my mother, my abuser, my body, and food. I put myself back together.

I never could do the same for my mother. She remained dependent for the rest of her days and in the end she wasted away to skin and skeleton. Alzheimer’s gobbled everything.

After breakfast and the bright diner, after I hug my friend goodbye, I sit into my car parked on a sunny, tree-lined street. Just as I turn the key in the engine, I fall back against the driver’s seat. It hits me that it’s even bigger than control. That’s what I should have told my friend. It was about my playing God over one part of myself because I couldn’t bring order to my other, broken parts. Couldn’t rise out of the easier, familiar territory of harm and turn my thoughts and power around to helping and healing myself. I couldn’t until I could.

My mind pivots again and I’m back in my childhood home, inside our small, dim kitchen. My mother sits in her chair at the end of the yellowed, scratched Formica table, her hand blindly searching her empty dinner plate, its face shiny with traces of butter, studded with the last of the salt. “Is there more?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, speaking not of food but of her full and joyful days. “There’s lots more.”

Ethel Rohan’s debut novel is The Weight of Him (St. Martin’s Press, February, 2017). She is also the author of two story collections, Goodnight Nobody and Cut Through the Bone, the former longlisted for The Edge Hill Prize and the latter longlisted for The Story Prize. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, OZY Magazine, BREVITY Magazine, and more. Raised in Dublin, Ireland, she lives in San Francisco where she is a member of the Writers’ Grotto.

Bringing It Back Up was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

15 Mar 07:09

Subsective adjectives and immigration

by Heidi Harley

An important rallying cry and usage distinction made by allies of undocumented workers in the current cultural battle over immigration in the United States is Elie Wiesel's assertion above: "No human being is illegal." In the quote, Wiesel gives examples of the kinds of adjectives that he feels can denote properties of people (fat, skinny, beautiful, right, and wrong). On the other hand, calling a person 'illegal', he says, is a contradiction in terms.

Here's a more elaborated statement of the idea, quoted from this website 

When one refers to an immigrant as an "illegal alien," they are using the term as a noun.  They are effectively saying that the individual, as opposed to any actions that the individual has taken, is illegal.  The term “illegal alien” implies that a person’s existence is criminal.  I’m not aware of any other circumstance in our common vernacular where a crime is considered to render the individual – as opposed to the individual’s actions – as being illegal.  We don’t even refer to our most dangerous and vile criminals as being “illegal.” 

Now because syntax is my actual job, I am honor-bound to point out that the term 'illegal alien' is a noun phrase, not a noun, and furthermore, that "using a term as a noun" does not mean "using it to refer to a person, place or thing," which I think is what the author above may be trying to say. But that quibble aside, we can see the idea. Laws criminalize actions, not people. Hence only someone's actions, not their very existence, can be illegal.

What are the linguistic underpinnings of the intuition that using the term illegal alien implies that a person's existence is illegal? I think it derives from an important distinction in types of adjectival meanings that I've learned about from the work of my Language Log colleague Barbara Partee. Different types of adjectives license different patterns of inferential reasoning.

Plain-vanilla 'intersective' adjectives like broad-shouldered, purple and round permit you to draw inferences like the following:

John is broad-shouldered man.
Therefore, John is broad-shouldered,
and John is a man.

That is a purple box.
Therefore, that is purple,
and that is a box.

To evaluate the truth of such assertions, you just check whether the subject is in the set of men (or boxes), and then check whether the subject is also in the set of broad-shouldered things (or purple things), and if both check out, the Adj+N predicate applies. The interpretation of the  Adj-N phrase just intersects the set picked out by the Adj and the set picked out by the N.

With intersective adjectives, the content of the noun and its modifying adjective don't interact with each other. Once you've established the truth of John is a broad-shouldered man, and you subsequently  find out more about John, e.g. that he's also a violinist, or a father, you can truthfully reason as follows:

John is a broad-shouldered man.
John is a father.
Therefore, John is a broad-shouldered father.

In contrast, adjectives of the 'subsective' class, like skillful, cannot be interpreted without reference to the semantic content of the noun that they modify. To take Barbara's example, let's say you've learned that John is a skillful violinist, and you subsequently learn that he's also a doctor. You are not thereby licensed to reason as follows:

John is a skillful violinist.
John is a doctor.
#Therefore, John is a skillful doctor.

That is, skillful crucially sorts violinists by their skill in playing the violin, not by some noun-independent notion of what it means to be 'skillful'. That's because there is no such independent notion. It applies only within the set of violinists and picks out a subset of them, hence the term 'subsective'.

Wiesel's intuition shows, I think, that illegal is like skillful; it necessarily interacts with the content of the noun it modifies. The adjective asserts illegality with respect to the content of the head noun, in the same way that skillful asserts skillfulness with respect to the content of the head noun.

This is borne out by the inference patterns of illegal. If someone is farming illegally, you might call him an illegal farmer. But it's illegality with respect to the farming, not anything else. If he's also a musician, you can't therefore conclude that he's an illegal musician:

John is an illegal farmer
John is a musician.
#Therefore, John is an illegal musician.

If illegal is subsective, a phrase like illegal person entails that there's some way of being a person that can be performed in an illegal manner. Furthermore, the noun alien in immigration legalese simply means 'non-citizen'. Being a non-citizen is also not illegal, and the phrase illegal alien is consequently nonsensical–a contradiction in terms, as Wiesel suggests.

There is also a nominal use of illegal. The word illegal is a noun when it occurs with no other head noun around, and inflects and behaves syntactically as a noun. Here's an example in a recent headline from the execrable Breitbart News: "Trump's executive order could mean deportation for 11 million illegals." Here, illegal is clearly grammatically functioning as a noun. It's inflected for plural, as required by the number 11 million preceding it, and it's the head of the noun phrase that is object of the verb deported.

Crucially, like most of the bare handful of truly de-adjectival nouns in English (a psychic, an adolescent, a fanatic) it only refers to people; illegal as a noun means what the noun phrase 'illegal people' would mean. Wiesel's remark thus applies here too: it's a contradiction in terms. There is, thankfully, no circumstance in which being a person is outlawed in the United States. There are therefore no 'illegals'.

In point of fact, in this country, entities with the personhood property are recognized as being endowed with certain unalienable rights. The subsective adjective illegal in combination with alien or person, as well as the deadjectival noun derived from it, is thus both inaccurate and offensive. These uses are intended to introduce to your mind the idea that there can be such a thing as an illegal human being. And it can't help but work. Your language processor operates without your supervision or consent, and it will compose the meaning of that subjective adjective together with the meaning of the noun it modifies whether you like it or not. You'll be thinking there's such a thing as outlawed personhood without even realizing it. It's a dirty linguistic trick.


Postscript: There's tons more to say, of course. One question has to do with why illegal alien doesn't seem to raise an immediate mental question mark the way illegal person does. This may have to do with three things: First, the word immigrant, without 'illegal' on it, shares a lot of meaning with alien in the legal sense. Second, the phrase illegal immigrant operates more or less as it should, in terms of subsectivity; an immigrant is someone who immigrated, and there are illegal ways of immigrating, so one could imagine that someone who had immigrated in one of those ways could be called an illegal immigrant. Perhaps the semantic parallel between alien and immigrant is why illegal alien doesn't so obviously mean the wrong thing, the way illegal person does. Furthermore, the non-legal sense of alien is pretty terrifying and, well, alienating, so the whole evocative package is a perfect storm of linguistic misdirection and pejoration.

What about illegal immigrant itself? If it denotes, as intended, 'a person who immigrated illegally', are there any issues with using that phrase? In fact there are, though the reasons are more about accuracy, justice and consideration, not linguistics, and have been discussed many many times by people much more qualified and informed than me. In regards accuracy, about 40% of the undocumented or unauthorized residents of the US are people who came in legally, but overstayed their visas. They did not enter the country illegally, and in fact haven't committed any crime, because a visa overstay is a civil infraction, not a criminal one. Calling all undocumented residents 'illegal immigrants' thus judges 40% of them guilty of a crime they haven't committed. It is perhaps also worth remarking that our legal system is centered on the idea that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty; and the phrase illegal immigrant works directly against that principle, when applied to specific people who haven't been tried yet. For these reasons, undocumented residents and allies find illegal immigrant problematic as well. Here's a reflective discussion by Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker about it; in the end, he chooses to opt in the future for more considerate usages. 

Anyway, I really encourage you all to get educated about this issue. For example, before doing some homework for this post, I didn't understand the special nature of 'status offenses', and the reasons why our courts look on them with heightened scrutiny. In any case, if you made it this far, now you have another way to explain to the well-meaning but unthinking user of illegal alien, illegal person or illegals why they should think about changing their usage. You can bring up subsectivity in adjective meaning. That ought to change the topic pretty quickly.

Many thanks to Art Torrance, Barbara Partee and Megan Figueroa for helping me with this post! But all flaws, inaccuracies and inadequacies are entirely my own.


15 Mar 06:46

“I Heart Blood Sports”: Re-Framing Menstruation

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday.

In a humorous article, Gloria Steinem asked, “What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?” Men, she asserted, would re-frame menstruation as a “enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event” about which they would brag (“about how long and how much”).  She writes:

Street guys would brag (“I’m a three pad man”) or answer praise from a buddy (“Man, you lookin’ good!”) by giving fives and saying, “Yeah, man, I’m on the rag!”

Military men, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation (“men-struation”) as proof that only men could serve in the Army (“you have to give blood to take blood”), occupy political office (“can women be aggressive without that steadfast cycle governed by the planet Mars?”), be priest and ministers (“how could a woman give her blood for our sins?”) or rabbis (“without the monthly loss of impurities, women remain unclean”).

Of course, male intellectuals would offer the most moral and logical arguments. How could a woman master any discipline that demanded a sense of time, space, mathematics, or measurement, for instance, without that in-built gift for measuring the cycles of the moon and planets – and thus for measuring anything at all?

Perhaps in homage to this article, the artist Käthe Ivansich developed an installation titled “Menstruation Skateboards” for the Secession Museum in Austria. Drawing on the same sort of re-framing, the exhibition was marketed with ads with bruised and bloody women and tag lines like “I heart blood sports” and “some girls bleed more than once a month.”  See examples at Ivansich’s website.

The exhibition included skateboards that generally mocked sexist language and re-claimed the blood of menstruation. This blood, the message is, makes me hardcore. The art project nicely makes Steinem’s point, showing how things like menstruation can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the social status of the person with whom it is associated.

Originally posted in September, 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(View original at

15 Mar 06:14

Shaming statistics for the 175

by (Jen)
tw: suicide stats

I'm very - perhaps too - fond of asking why people so rarely look at their actions in the context of "what happens next?"  As Peter Cook might have asked, did A Question Of Sport die in vain?

Back when the same-sex marriage bill was wending its way through parliament, we heard many arguments for and against. Some were coherent. Some were respectable. There's a fun venn diagram to be drawn of which were one, neither or both.

Now, I've just been reading some research from the USA looking at the impacts of same-sex marriage legislation there, where change happened in bursts from state to state over several years.

No, not at the number of weddings and the impact on the sale of top hats and fabulous frocks. One of the other impacts same-sex marriage has had.

It's based on huge sample sizes and shows one of the effects of allowing same-sex marriage nationwide was about 134,000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide each year.  Looking at numbers before and after, there's a 7 percent reduction in the proportion of all high-school students reporting a suicide attempt over the previous year, and a 14 percent drop among LGB students, when same-sex marriage becomes lawful where you live.

Often we talk about these kind of statistics but we rarely pause to turn them round. To consider the "what if", the "what happens next" of the path not taken.  The path we didn't take thanks to the passage of the two same-sex marriage bills in Wales & England and in Scotland.

US and UK culture are in very many ways similar. So with about a quarter of their population we might rule-of-thumb that the impact here is 134,000 divided by four - 33,500 fewer young people attempting to end their lives each year in the UK.  Each year.  Our 2013 vote is four years ago already: so the change is 33,500 upon 33,500 upon 33,500 upon...

What an amazing number. What a horrifying number. For the 400 MPs who voted to allow same-sex marriage, what a humbling number. Yes, you let some people get married, and that was beautiful. But "what happened next" was a huge positive impact on the mental health and even survival of young people. You let some people get married and, thanks to an unwritten clause in the Bill, you saw to it that thousands did not try to end their lives early.  An unknowable number of parents never came home to the horrible ultimate consequence of social, legal and institutional homophobia.

And for the 175 MPs (and indeed 148 Peers) who planted their colours against the tide of history, with numbers like these the nature of their actions and motives is laid bare. We can see what they were actively, consciously, premeditatedly complicit in, what they were voting for, because let's be frank: while we didn't have these figures, we and they knew the answer to the "what happens next" question all along.

A handful of the 175 have said they'd vote differently today. We have to conclude that the rest are proud of the future they were voting for, and take comfort that they didn't get what they wanted.
15 Mar 06:12

allthingslinguistic: science-of-noise: William Jones, who first used the symbol π (pi) to represent...



William Jones, who first used the symbol π (pi) to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter was the father of William Jones, who first posited the existence of the language that became known as Proto-Indo-European (PIE).

That’s as good an excuse as any to eat PIE pie on March 14th.

14 Mar 10:51

"The alleged lexical extravagance of the Eskimos comports so well with the many other facets of their..."


Minnesota definitely has lots of words for snow. Britain doesn't, but it has more words for overcast skies and for rain. We do ourselves a disservice by piling up these racist myths.

The alleged lexical extravagance of the Eskimos comports so
well with the many other facets of their polysynthetic perversity:
rubbing noses; lending their wives to strangers; eating raw seal
blubber; throwing grandma out to be eaten by polar bears; “ We are
prepared to believe almost anything about such an unfamiliar and
peculiar group,” says Martin, in a gentle reminder of our buried racist

The tale she tells is an embarrassing saga of scholarly sloppiness and
popular eagerness to embrace exotic facts about other people’s
languages without seeing the evidence. The fact is that the myth of the
multiple words for snow is based on almost nothing at all. It is a kind
of accidentally developed hoax perpetrated by the anthropological
linguistics community on itself.

The original source is Franz Boas’ introduction to The Handbook of
North American Indians (1911). And all Boas says there, in the context
of a low-key and slightly ill-explained discussion of independent versus derived terms for things in different languages, is that just as English uses separate roots for a variety of forms of water (liquid, lake, river, brook, rain, dew, wave, foam) that might be formed by derivational morphology from a single root meaning ‘water’ in some other language, so Eskimo uses the apparently distinct roots aput 'snow on the ground’, qana 'falling snow’, piqsirpoq 'drifting snow’, and qimuqsuq 'a snow drift’. Boas’ point is simply that English expresses these notions by phrases involving the root snow, but things could have been otherwise, just as the words for lake, river, etc. could have been formed derivationally or periphrastically on the root water. 

But with the next twist in the story, the unleashing of the
xenomorphic fable of Eskimo lexicography seems to have become
inevitable. What happened was that Benjamin Lee Whorf, Connecticut
fire prevention inspector and weekend language-fancier, picked up
Boas’ example and used it, vaguely, in his 1940 amateur linguistics
article 'Science and linguistics,’ which was published in MIT’s
promotional magazine Technology Review (Whorf was an alumnus; he
had done his B.S. in chemical engineering at MIT).

Our word snow would seem too inclusive to an Eskimo, our man
from the Hartford Fire Insurance Company confidently asserts. With
an uncanny perception into the hearts and minds of the hardy Arctic
denizens (the more uncanny since Eskimos were not a prominent
feature of Hartford’s social scene at the time), he avers: 

“We have the same word for falling snow, snow on the ground, snow packed hard like ice, slushy snow, wind-driven flying snow – whatever the situation may be. To an Eskimo, this all-inclusive word would be almost unthinkable; he would say that falling snow, slushy snow, and so on, are sensuously and operationally different.” […]

Notice that Whorf’s statement has illicitly inflated Boas’ four terms
to at least seven (1: “falling”, 2: “on the ground”, 3: “packed hard”,
4: “slushy”, 5: “flying”, 6, 7 …. : “and other kinds of snow”). Notice
also that his claims about English speakers are false; I recall the stuff in question being called “snow” when fluffy and white, “slush” when partly melted, “sleet” when falling in a half-melted state, and a “blizzard” when pelting down hard enough to make driving dangerous. Whorf’s remark about his own speech community is no more reliable than his glib generalizations about what things are “sensuously and operationally different” to the generic Eskimo. 

But the lack of little things like verisimilitude and substantiation are
not enough to stop a myth. Martin tracks the great Eskimo vocabulary
hoax through successively more careless repetitions and embroiderings in a number of popular books on language. […]

But never mind: three, four, seven, who cares? It’s a bunch, right?
Once more popular sources start to get hold of the example, all
constraints are removed: arbitrary numbers are just made up as the writer thinks appropriate for the readership. […]

Among the many depressing things about this credulous transmission
and elaboration of a false claim is that even if there were a large
number of roots for different snow types in some Arctic language, this
would not, objectively, be intellectually interesting; it would be a most
mundane and unremarkable fact.

Horsebreeders have various names for breeds, sizes, and ages of
horses; botanists have names for leaf shapes; interior decorators have
names for shades of mauve; printers have many different names for
different fonts (Caslon, Garamond, Helvetica, Times Roman, and so on), naturally enough. If these obvious truths of specialization are
supposed to be interesting facts about language, thought, and culture,
then I’m sorry, but include me out.

Would anyone think of writing about printers the same kind of slop
we find written about Eskimos in bad linguistics textbooks? Take a
random textbook like Paul Gaeng’s Introduction to the Principles of
Language (1971), with its earnest assertion: “It is quite obvious that in
the culture of the Eskimos… snow is of great enough importance to
split up the conceptual sphere that corresponds to one word and one
thought in English into several distinct classes…” (p. 137). Imagine
reading: “It is quite obvious that in the culture of printers.., fonts are
of great enough importance to split up the conceptual sphere that
corresponds to one word and one thought among non-printers into
several distinct classes…” Utterly boring, if even true. Only the link
to those legendary, promiscuous, blubber-gnawing hunters of the icepacks could permit something this trite to be presented to us for

- Geoff Pullum, in The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax.
14 Mar 10:47

Parenting by the Books: How To Do Things With Words

by Sarah Blackwood

Moms and the Philosophy of Language

Image: Robin Tomens

“Josh was saying curse words today!” he declared as he stepped off the bus home from his central Brooklyn public school. “Oh!” I exclaimed, and then a little conspiratorially: “what words did he say?” He breathlessly spilled the beans. “The ‘J’ word” and the ‘A’ word and the ‘F’ word and the ‘H’ word.” “What words are those?!” I prompted, eyes wide. He answered. “Jerk, and asp, and funk, and….heck!”

I don’t know if the street-smart second grader on the bus is saying the actual F word, and my younger child is mishearing, or if they are all just going around shouting “funk you” at school and thinking it makes them anything other than super-miniature Brunos Mars. Does it matter if they know “what” they are saying? If they think they are cursing, aren’t they cursing? Or, even putting aside the question of intention, if their “shocking” utterance changes the world for them in some way, makes it shimmer for them in the way the best curse words do: isn’t that its own confirmation?

Being a mother continually challenges me to think about how language works, which makes it weird to think back on aspects of my graduate education related to the philosophy of language. The most common genealogies hold that it wasn’t until Ludwig Wittgenstein in the early twentieth century that philosophy started to seriously explore how language did more than just describe an already extant world. Language, these modern thinkers realized, in fact shaped the world and acted upon it. This is more than just arcane grad seminar stuff, it’s the “linguistic turn” out of which the world-altering theories of structuralism, post-structuralism, performativity, and semiotics emerged.

Yet it occurs to me: had anyone consulted someone who cared for small children, perhaps we might have gotten to this insight a little sooner in human history? The disregard for the realities of caretaking is kind of the problem with philosophy, right? Any parent will have had experience with what J.L. Austin called, in his 1962 book How to Do Things With Words, “illocutionary” language: an act of speaking that actually does the action it promises to do. “STOP!” “Yes, you may.” “Use your words.” “I love you.”

How to Do Things With Words carefully maps how performative speech works, which of course includes thinking through the (many) instances when it doesn’t. Here, too, caretakers have important knowledge: examples of when and where performative language breaks down, where language fails to act upon the world in the way intended or expected. Consider the first few times I heard my kids say “shut up.” I played it so uncool, made it so clear that I disliked it, that they now use the phrase as some sort of fast track button to press when they want to get somewhere bad, quickly. When they’re looking for a conflict, when they want to ramp things up to the point of a good cathartic screaming cry, when they need to get some of the ugly out of themselves, they know how to do it. “Shut up,” my three-year-old mutters through pressed lips like Mugsy. It’s a familial Rubicon, a semantic breakdown where our speech is definitely doing something but not at all what we want it to do.

How to Do Things With Words is a great book, and I love much of the theory and philosophy that grew up alongside it. And yet its position in intellectual history reminds me how much of women’s knowledge and intellect has been ignored throughout history. I’m put in mind of Virginia Woolf’s description of the harmfully inverse relationship between reproduction, caretaking, and the achievements of the intellect in A Room of One’s Own. Her clever authorial persona considers the difference between the riches of an imaginary all-men’s college of Oxbridge and its shabby all-women’s counterpart, Fernham. Oxbridge has $$$, nourishment for the body and soul, grass she is not allowed to walk on, and a towering library full of knowledge that she may not enter. How did this come to be? Why had no one left a fortune to sustain an institution for women’s flourishing? “What force” the narrator asks about the miserly dinner they’ve just eaten, “is behind the plain china off which we dined?” And then she realizes:

For, to endow a college would necessitate the suppression of families altogether….Consider the facts, we said. First there are nine months before the baby is born. Then the baby is born. Then there are three or four months spent in feeding the baby. After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby. You cannot, it seems, let children run about the streets.

You, indeed, cannot! “STOP!!” I shout as my children race their scooters toward a dangerous intersection. And they do. Stop, that is. My words, performatively (and iteratively) uttered day after day after day as we criss-cross the city blocks home after school, draw boundaries about them. For their part, my children are speech acting all the day long: labelling, repeating, pleading, refusing. And, of course, trying to poke holes in those boundaries, testing out the places where language fails: SHUT UP AND FUNK YOU! The linguistic turn in philosophy captured something real and ordinary about how language actually works. The question I have, though, is why it took us so long — until the twentieth century! Unbelievable! — to get there.

Woolf, I think, would say that it’s because we had not thought to ask, or know anything about, the people taking care:

Here am I asking why women did not write poetry in the Elizabethan age, and I am not sure how they were educated; whether they were taught to write; whether they had sitting-rooms to themselves; how many women had children before they were twenty-one; what, in short, they did from eight in the morning till eight at night.

Were you to have posited to a mother of five children, in 1850 or 1910 or 1723, that language mostly “described” the world as it “is,” she likely could have offered an almost limitless number of counter-examples, drawn from her daily linguistic world-building with children. But, of course, nobody asked her.

Parenting by the Books” is a series about parenting and classic literary texts.

Sarah Blackwood is editor and co-founder of Avidly and associate professor of English at Pace University.

Parenting by the Books: How To Do Things With Words was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

14 Mar 10:24

"Last year I discovered the perfect gift for the supercilious arse in your life: a mug emblazoned..."

Last year I discovered the perfect gift for the supercilious arse in your life: a mug emblazoned with the legend ‘I am silently correcting your grammar’. The existence of this item testifies to the widely-held belief that sneering at other people’s language-use is not just acceptable, it’s actually a virtue. When the subject is language, you can take pride in being a snob; you can even display your exquisite sensitivity by comparing yourself to a genocidal fascist (‘I’m a bit of a grammar Nazi: I can’t bear it when people use language incorrectly’). […]

A number of these reports followed the same formula: first they described a racist white Briton telling a non-white or non-British person to ‘start packing’ or ‘go home’, and then they commented that the racist couldn’t even speak English properly. One writer reported that she’d stood up to a white woman who harangued her in a shop, by telling her, among other things, that ‘I speak better English than you’. She explained that she’d heard the white woman speaking to someone else, and noticed that ‘her grammar was appalling’.

I’m not going to blame someone in this situation for defending herself with whatever weapons are to hand. My question is why claiming to speak better English than your adversary is so often a weapon people reach for. Why does it seem more apt, and less crass, than (for instance) ‘I’m better looking than you’ or ‘I’ve got more money than you’?  Maybe it’s because it chimes with the idea that bigots are ignorant and stupid. It allows their critics to feel intellectually and culturally as well as morally superior (‘I’d hate my child to be educated by a gay teacher’. ‘Pity no one bothered educating you. Gotcha’). But however satisfying that may be, it raises the question of whether you can claim the moral high ground by using one unjust prejudice against another.

If you describe someone you’ve heard speaking in a shop as using ‘appalling’ grammar, the only thing you can mean is that s/he speaks a nonstandard dialect. In Britain, speaking a nonstandard dialect generally means that (a) you grew up working class and (b) you didn’t spend enough quality time in formal education for your native dialect to be replaced in everyday speech by the more prestigious dialect of the middle class (though you’ll use that dialect when you write, and you’ll certainly be able to read it). So, criticising a racist’s nonstandard grammar is mobilising one form of privilege (based on class and/or education) to attack another (based on whiteness). As I said before, I’m not going to blame the person who uses this tactic in self-defence. But that doesn’t mean I have to applaud the tactic. […]

The same problem arises with the political examples I took from Twitter. In no case does the response engage directly with the tweeter’s prejudice. It says, in effect, ‘this mistake tells me you’re stupid, and if you’re stupid I can just dismiss your argument, which is also, by extension, stupid’. And the argument may indeed be stupid, but it wouldn’t be any less stupid if it were spelled correctly (just as Hitler wasn’t any less fascist because he could write a coherent sentence). Conversely, deviations from standard usage do not make a true fact less true or a just argument less just. The moral status of what someone says is about the content, not the grammar. […]

By all means take issue with bigots–but for their politics, not their punctuation. Criticise their views, not the size of their vocabulary. Stop using their grammar as a measure of their moral worth.

- Pride, prejudice, and pedantry by Debbie Cameron
12 Mar 07:17

Have fun

by Fred Clark
It's not quite the right word or the right category. The night had been difficult, unpleasant and uncomfortable -- none of the things you're signing up for if you're looking for a night of fun. Pose an open-ended question in which I were asked to provide a description of that evening and I would never have reached for the word "fun." Nor would Mick, or Charlie, or the nurse at Jeff. "Fun" seems reductive and dismissive, like some inconsequential amusement or time-killing diversion.
12 Mar 07:14

An open letter to Neil deGrasse Tyson on linguists and Arrival

An open letter to Neil deGrasse Tyson on linguists and Arrival:

A recent guest post on Language Log is an open letter to Neil deGrasse Tyson about the role of linguists versus cryptographers in Arrival: 

As fellow scientists, we linguists appreciate the work you do as a spokesperson for science. However, your recent tweet about the film Arrival perpetuates a common misunderstanding about what linguistics is and what linguists do:

In the @ArrivalMovie I’d chose a Cryptographer & Astrobiologist to talk to the aliens, not a Linguist & Theoretical Physicist

Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson), 1:40 PM – 26 Feb 2017

Though the term linguist is often used by the public to refer generally to anyone whose occupation is related to language (especially translators and interpreters), the type depicted in Arrival is a special kind of linguist who engages in the scientific study of human language: its structures, its uses, its underlying similarities, and its surprising diversity. A cryptographer simply cannot replicate the specialized training that a linguist like Louise Banks has, which takes years to learn and decades to master.

Most importantly, a cryptanalyst would likely be much less suited to the task of communicating with aliens than a linguist would (a cryptographer even less so, since they work on encryption, not decryption). Cryptanalysis relies on decrypting coded messages from a known language. If the source language and the encryption method are both unknown, ordinary cryptanalytic methods will fail. This is why the Native American code talkers of the 20th century were so invaluable to the US in both world wars: their languages were not understood by enemy cryptanalysts, so their encrypted versions could not be cracked, unlike with well-known languages like English.

Read the full open letter or see also many previous posts about the linguistics of Arrival.

12 Mar 07:13

Day 5909: Mr John Humphrys in Muddy Waters

by Millennium Dome

Today’s lesson: when @BBCR4Feedback call an hour early and say they can call back in an hour… they aren’t going to call back.

How did we get to there? Well, the usual start to the week – listening to Daddy Richard shout at the radio – was interrupted by a moment of shocked silence when, as he tweeted, THIS happened:

“Jaw dropping moment as John Humphreys asks: doesn't it muddy the waters if we call far right terrorist murder of Jo Cox "terrorism" #r4today”

Life in the Today Programme goldfish bowl...

That generated… a fair number of retweets and replies, one of which said we should make it a proper complaint to the BBC. So that’s what we did, and posted it up on the Facebook too:

“After a jawdropping moment on this morning's Today programme, I have submitted this complaint to the BBC, via

During an interview with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, in charge of Counter Terrorism, Mr Rowley warned the public should not forget the terrorist threat from right-wing extremists, and cited the murder of MP Jo Cox.
John Humphreys responded by asking "didn't that muddy the waters" and suggesting that the murderer Thomas Mair was mentally ill.
The judge, sentencing Thomas Mair, said: "There is no doubt this murder was done for the purpose of advancing a political, racial and ideological cause namely that of violent white supremacism and exclusive nationalism most associated with Nazism and its modern forms."
Dismissing genuine terrorism as actions of "lone mentally ill person" is factually wrong and dangerous to public safety. And the implication that terrorism is something done only be foreigners / non-white people / Muslims is dangerously close to accepting the premise of the racists that Thomas Mair represents.
If the police are describing the Jo Cox murder as terrorism, the BBC should not be questioning that, but asking itself serious questions about the climate of right-wing hate that has been allowed foment in the UK, for which the BBC by airing or repeating (as here) the views of these people bears some responsibility.

And THAT generated another lot of traffic and clearly a LOT of other people were quite cross too, because that was when the Radio FEEDBACK programme got in touch and asked if they could talk about that Tweet and the reaction to what Mr Humphrys said.

So they said that they would call between 10am and 1pm, Wednesday. Actually they called at 9.15, just as we were getting on the Jubilee line.

So, IF this ever happens to you, do not let them say: “it’s fine we will call you back in an hour”. No! You say “I WILL TALK TO YOU NOW”!

Anyway, here is what we WOULD have said:

Why was I so taken about by John Humphrys suggestion that calling the murder of MP Jo Cox terrorism was “muddying the waters”?

The Facts – the police, the crown prosecution service, the sentencing judge all agreed that this was a politically motivated terrorist murder. These are not liberal snowflakes, they are serious people. Jo Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair, was psychiatrically examined and found to be in his own mind and fit to stand trial for his actions.

This is the BBC’s own report of the sentencing judge’s remarks: - note the emphasis on the high degree of planning and premeditation, as well as the political motivation. This was not the random act of a “madman”.

The right wing press – who have an agenda – might question this. But I expect very senior BBC journalists to know the facts and not repeat propaganda.

The Context – the interview was with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley asking the public to contact the police with information if they are worried or suspicious about their neighbours. And as a Liberal, I’m not 100% happy with his “be afraid and inform on your neighbours” agenda here. So actually, I was giving him some credit when he was reminding people that there is far right political terrorism to watch out for as well. When Mr Humphrys interrupted. But if anything is going to “muddy the waters” it is the suggestion from the interviewer that some terrorism isn’t as worth while contacting the police about because it is a fascist rather than ISIS who is threatening people’s lives.

And I think you could tell that the Assistant Commissioner was somewhat taken aback by this sudden derailing of the interview, too.

The Narrative – because it’s all very familiar to hear white terrorists described as “a lone wolf” or “mentally ill”. These excuses get repeated whenever a white person commits an atrocity like this. Anders Breivek who killed all those children in Sweden; Timothy McVeigh the Oklahoma bomber; Dylann Roof, the man who shot nine black churchgoers at a service in Charleston Carolina; the list goes on, back to the Unabomber and earlier.

The message is “white people don’t commit terrorism; only brown people do terrorism”.

And it’s wrong.

We don’t hear people challenging the idea that the murder of Lee Rigby was terrorism. We don’t hear people suggesting that the shoe bomber Richard Reid was mentally ill. And it’s not like we have no experience of white sectarian terrorism in this country.

The BBC has a responsibility not to perpetuate this myth, which leads to…

The hate crimes – we’ve seen a surge in attacks against women and minorities, particularly people who are immigrants or even just perceived as immigrants, fuelled by the xenophobic language of the Leave campaign and UKIP and now even the more right-wing elements of the government. The murder of Jo Cox happened at the height of the most horribly divisive and racially charged referendum campaign and on very the day Nigel Farage was unveiling his Nazi-imagery-evoking “Breaking Point” poster.

And people want to deny there is a connection.

The right wing, the nationalists, want people to think that only foreigners can be terrorists. They want people to be afraid. But they don’t want it to come back on them. And they won’t take responsibility. They want to deny that there are extremist views on their side, and that among those extremists are some people who use violence and murder for their political ends.

I do not expect senior BBC journalists to be giving support to these people.

The excuse – the excuse given in reply to my complaint was that John was just putting a challenging question. Well, firstly, it wasn’t a question. It might have had the form of a question, but it was just an assertion. It was not posed as a question, more a muttered aside. And it presupposes that Jo Cox murder could not be terrorism if the “question” put is whether that statement muddies the waters.

But also, if you’re going to ask challenging questions, why start at that point? Why not challenge the Assistant Commissioner over why the terror alert is still at the second highest level after years and years, and doesn’t that make it a bit pointless? Or challenge him on the threats that the police say that they’ve defeated – what sort of threats are we talking about: knife attacks, anthrax letters or something on the scale of 7/7? That would give the public a genuine insight into the threat level, in a way that questioning whether Jo Cox murder was terrorism would not.

The Farage agenda gets far too much of a free ride from the BBC already, with UKIP – or their proxies in the Tory Party – on the air far more often than their support however you count it would justify. But this was a particularly poor interview – unquestioning of the authoritarian agenda at the start and then then tossing in this unjustified assertion that would not have been out of place in the Daily Mail.

John Humphrys has a reputation to live up to. We should expect more of him.
12 Mar 07:00

submitting slavishly...

by lynneguist
 Please reserve the comments section for topics related to this post. 

Lately, I've been super-aware of people saying that British English "slavishly" copies American English. Like this:
 the UK slavishly adopts Americanisms !! (from an email to me this week)
“To be snooty about Americans, while slavishly admiring them; this is another crucial characteristic of being British.”  (From the Economist, but quoted this week in Toni Hargis's reflection on the recent Word of Mouth on English)
It's an interesting choice of words, and I was reminded of it this morning when I read the television critic Mark Lawson writing about BBC4 (my emphasis added):
The original 2002 mission statement also included “international cinema”, and this was expanded to include foreign television, which could be regarded as BBC4’s most lasting legacy. Its screening of Mad Men was formative in changing the UK’s attitude to US drama from dismissiveness to submissiveness.
Why slavishly? Why submissive? Lawson was probably pleased with his rhyme, but why not dismissiveness to enjoyment or appreciation? In this case, it's not even that it's a torrent of US drama that the viewer cannot avoid, as BBC4 doesn't broadcast very much American drama. The paragraph goes on:
Its imported Swedish and Danish hits – including The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen – established that subtitled stories could find a British audience, encouraging other channels to shop from Scandinavian suppliers, and also to adopt the slower rhythms of Scandi-drama in homegrown series such as Broadchurch and The Missing.
What, the homegrown series didn't submit to the Scandinavian rhythms, but adopted them? Don't you mean they slavishly copied them? 

Now, of course, slavish isn't the same thing as enslaved. The relevant OED sense is defined  as

Servilely imitative; lacking originality or independence.

Available here
But it's an interesting word and image. The adjective slavish is used to similar degrees in AmE and BrE.  Most often it's followed by the noun devotion in both countries, but in the UK it's about as likely to be followed by adherence while in the US, the next most frequent noun is fear. Slavish fear involves a very different interpretation of slavish than slavish devotion does. It calls more directly on literal slavery, with the existence of a fear-inspiring master.

The adverb slavishly is found nearly twice as much in BrE (in the GloWBE and NOW corpora). Google Books corpus shows that the two countries used to use it at similar rates, but it's been falling off in the US since the 1960s. Perhaps Americans find it a bit more distasteful since the civil rights movement. (Maybe that accounts for my reaction to it.)

For me, the weird thing about the use of slavishly in the 'copying American English' context is that you can't have a slave without a master. And being a master has to be intentional. But American English isn't trying to have a slave.

Yes, Americans want to export stuff. But they don't care a lot about exporting American English--at least, not as much as the British establishment cares about exporting (and enforcing?) British English. (The reasons for this American lack of interest are complex, but contributing factors are that the British are already doing the work and the feelings that any English is good enough and that British might even be superior.)  Exporting the language is a bigger industry in the UK-- most of the dictionaries for learners of English as a foreign language come from the UK (in fact, that's the only kind of dictionary that some UK publishers work on). The government funds the British Council (which also makes a lot of its own money through the IELTS language test). The US has been much later to that parade--and half(-)hearted about joining it.

The language continues to be Britain's empire--and imperialism seems to be the frame through which many Britons frame relationships with "bigger players", like the US and the European Union. Once the British were the imperialists, and now other relationships of interaction and dependency are framed as if they are the coloni{s/z}ed. There is often a disconnect between the complaint that American English is "taking over" and fact that it all started when Britain took over. Not to mention that Britain has benefited hugely from American English's role in keeping their language relevant to the rest of the world.

I compare this to thinking about British English and French. About how in the 19th century the British added the -me on programme in imitation of the French spelling.* How the British couldn't sell zucchini (the particular hybrid was originally Italian), but ate up courgettes. How they're partial to French-inspired spellings like colour and centre. British English is often deferential to French--after all, for a long time the aristocracy spoke French. But although French speakers were, at points in English history, literally the overlords (and then they had two centuries' worth of wars with them) I don't hear complaints that English has slavishly copied French. (Well, I do hear them from myself sometimes. Those [heavily tongue-in-cheek] complaints were recorded for a podcast that'll be released in July.)

All of this is related to the themes from two posts ago. These things are at the forefront of my mind as I write the conclusion for my book, so I'm testing out ideas here. But the slavishly/submissiveness wordings also resounded particularly this week after Ben Carson's comments about "involuntary immigrants" and also reading about another "unpopular invader" from America, the gr{a/e}y squirrel. Not comparing these things, you understand, just hyper-aware of how 'migration' and 'slave'-related words are being used these days.

So, are the British brainwashed by American English into slavish submission? Have you other thoughts on these metaphors and their use?

* The earlier spelling program has come back from the US and is now used in Britain as computing jargon. The Americanness of computer jargon spelling (program, dialog box, disk) is taken by some as an unwelcome American incursion. But in my experience British computer types use these spellings as (more AmE?) shibboleths. Those who know not to use the general-purpose British spellings for the computer-related meanings are accepted as reasonably knowledgeable. Those who don't might be in for some instruction on the topic.
12 Mar 06:30

"Gretchen: One thing that happens with third-person pronouns is what I have called in a blog post The..."

Gretchen: One thing that happens with third-person pronouns is what I have called in a blog post The Gay Fanfiction Problem.

Lauren: That very serious linguistic problem.

Gretchen: It’s a very serious linguistic problem that happens when you have a narrative with multiple people using the same pronoun, and you have to figure out, with a sentence like, ‘he touched his hand’, who’s touching whose hand or other parts of the body?

Lauren: Especially when this has been going on for multiple paragraphs.

Gretchen: One of the things people ask sometimes is, why do we have gender in pronouns at all? And one of the answers is that it’s a rough-and-ready way of trying to divide the population into two equal groups. And it’s not perfect, but it’s better than some of our other options – like dividing people into groups of tall and short people, or young and old people or something like that. In a lot of situations, some people in a group will be male and some people in a group will be female. It’s not The Straight Fanfiction problem because there you do have pronouns to tell them apart.

Lauren: If there are only two people in an interaction.

Gretchen: Well, there’s two problems. There’s the Gay Fanfiction Problem, and then there’s the Poly Fanfiction Problem, and those are two separate problems.

Lauren: Yep, but when they collide it’s very complicated.

Gretchen: Then there’s The Gay Poly Fanfiction Problem.

Lauren: But not all languages have this problem for their gay fanfiction!

Gretchen: I don’t know if all languages write gay fanfiction but they presumably all tell stories where multiple people are involved.

[Cut interesting but long discussion on several ways languages partially solve this problem.]

Lauren: And of course there are a set of languages where none of this is a problem at all, and they are sign languages that use spatial locations for pronominal reference. So in sign languages, generally what happens is to make the equivalent of a pronoun in a language like English, they all sign someone’s name or a reference to someone or their actions in a particular space and then that space will be used to call back to that person throughout the interaction. Or the person can move around in the kind of signing space but they’re always able to be spatially referred to.

Gretchen: So signing space could be like ‘top left’ or 'towards the right of the person who’s signing’ or something like that.

Lauren: Yeah. I mean, when you speak English and you gesture across a narrative you’re possibly doing this without really thinking about it anyway. So you may be referring to Bob and Dave as if Bob’s on the left, Dave’s on the right. In sign languages like Auslan, which is the one I know this type of example from best, Bob will get put in a particular space and he’ll be signed there and then he’ll kind of keeping called back to from there.

Gretchen: So if the barbecue is to the left of us and Bob’s by the barbecue, then we set up the barbecue on the left, we set up Bob near the BBQ, and then we have Dave over by the house on the right.

Lauren: And so if Bob says something, I’ll sign what Bob said in the left-hand space.

Gretchen: Or kind of turn your body towards that space, as if you’re speaking from Bob’s perspective. I don’t know much ASL but I’ve seen people talk about this in ASL as well.

Lauren: It’s a very elegant solution.

Gretchen: It’s beautiful. And the nice thing about it is you’re not limited to just having people on the left or people on the right, because you could have someone that’s kind of like 'top-left’, 'bottom-left’, 'top right’, 'bottom right’…

Lauren: Yeah, I don’t know what the maximum number is… I guess it’s however many people you can keep track of in the narrative.

Gretchen: I feel like I’ve heard someone say seven but that might be false.

Lauren: A good storyteller, surely

Gretchen: But definitely you can do more than two, which is fantastic. And it doesn’t matter anything about their gender because you can just set them up wherever you want.

Lauren: Gender doesn’t matter, number doesn’t matter, all of those kind of things.

Gretchen: So several sign languages have solved the Gay Poly Fanfiction Problem, and all other languages will have to figure out how to do that.

Lauren: Playing catch-up, really

Gretchen: Or just learn a sign language so you can write better fanfic.


Excerpt from Episode 2 of Lingthusiasm: Pronouns. Little words, big jobs. Listen to the full episode, read the transcript, or check out the show notes for links to further reading.
(via lingthusiasm)

As we pointed out for Episode 1 of Lingthusiasm, in order for Space Pidgin to become Space Creole, we would need a generation of Space Babies born to the astronauts and cosmonauts who could grow up with Space Pidgin as their primary linguistic input. Now, to help you write this fic (please, someone write this fic!), Episode 2 of Lingthusiasm tackles pronoun problems in fanfiction.

02 Mar 11:12

Is Americanization speeding up?

by lynneguist
Today I got to hear myself on BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth talking with host Michael Rosen and anti-Americanism-ist Matthew Engel.

This is just a picture. Click HERE for the program(me)!
Biggest regret: that I completely blanked on the fact that sidewalk is originally a British word. Had to go home and read about it in my own book manuscript. I also regret that they cut a bit I said about British music artists singing in their own accents. (So please read this instead. I think the producer/editor might have thought that the reference to grime music would be too much for the Radio 4 [orig. AmE] listenership.)

But listening now to Engel repeatedly saying that American English influence on British is constantly increasing, I wish I'd pointed out this:

The 20th Century is often called "The American Century". The 21st Century is looking a lot less American. To be sure, it's not looking like the British century either. That came the century before.

American culture (and words) could easily spread in the 20th century because it was hard to produce and distribute recorded entertainment, but the US had the capacity and the economy and the marketing savvy to do so [And I mustn't forget the Marshall Plan, which my colleague just mentioned to me.] America was inventing and manufacturing all sorts of things and putting names on them and selling them everywhere. Two world wars and the cold war had Americans stationed all over the world using their slang in the presence of young recruits from other countries. The 21st century is looking rather different.

The 20th century brought us talking pictures and television. Radio, the most affordable form of broadcast, remained a more local proposition--though the recorded music could be imported. (Though the word radio, well that's an Americanism.) The 21st century is the time of the internet and of personali{s/z}ed entertainment. The popular songs are less universally popular, because people have more access to more different kinds of music on download. Instead of two or three or four choices on television, there are hundreds. And if you don't like what you're seeing you can go on YouTube or SoundCloud (or other things I'm too old and [orig. AmE] uncool to know about) and find all sorts of people doing all sorts of things. People go on the internet and meet each other and talk to each other, meaning that there's more opportunity than ever for there to be exchange of words between people, rather than just reception of words from the media. The slangs that young people use are sometimes local to their school or area and sometimes particular to an international online gaming community or music fandom. The notion of community, for many people, has internationali{s/z}ed. Language is moving in different ways now than it ever had the chance to move in the 20th century.

In the meantime, all indications are that the US is becoming politically more isolationist and more of an international pariah. Are its words going to flow so freely abroad? Will there be a taste for them?

The American century has happened. I don't know whose century this will be (please, please not Putin's), if indeed it will be any nation's century. (Better a nation's century than a virus's century, though.) American words will continue to spread to other parts of the world, but I can't see the evidence of Engel's strong claim that the imbalance between US and UK word-travel is increasing faster than ever.

At the start of the 21st century, British words seem to be entering America in greater numbers than they were a few decades ago. Much of this has to do with journalism and how international that's become. The online versions of the Daily Mail and the Guardian are extremely popular in the US. There are more US fans of Doctor Who now than in its Tom Baker days. Harry Potter is the single most important thing that's happened to children's publishing in the English-speaking world in my lifetime, and though the editions sold in the US are translated into American to some extent, it's actually only a small extent. Americans are reading and hearing more British English than they have in a long time.

The scale(s) is/are still tipped in American vocabulary's favo(u)r. But as far as I can see, there's not a lot of reason to believe that the degree of the imbalance is rapidly increasing. Yes, the number of American words in British English constantly increases, but there's more westward traffic now, more UK coining of managementspeak, and new local youth cultures making their own words in Britain. The tide hasn't turned, but there is (mixed metaphor alert) (orig. AmE) pushback.

And if English continues to be popular as a global lingua franca (due to its momentum, rather than the foreign and cultural policies of the UK and US), then more words may be coming from other places altogether.
23 Feb 17:45

The temperature is struggling

by Geoffrey K. Pullum

I'm glad it's not just me who misses American weather forecasts!

I commented back in 2008 on the ridiculous vagueness of some of the brief weather forecast summaries on BBC radio ("pretty miserable by and large," and so on). I do sometimes miss the calm, scientific character of American weather forecasts, with their precise temperature range predictions and exact precipitation probabilities. In recent days, on BBC Radio 4's morning news magazine program, I have heard an official meteorologist guy from the weather center saying not just vague things like "a weather front trying to get in from the north Atlantic," or "heading for something a little bit warmer as we move toward the weekend," but (more than once) a total baffler: "The temperature is going to be struggling." What the hell is that about?

I'm suppose to visualize a point on the temperature scale struggling? Who is it struggling with? What is it struggling to do?

Don't answer that. You know I hate comments. I try to avoid ever clicking on the button on the bottom left that opens comments, but sometimes when reaching for the Publish button I clumsily… Oops. Just clicked it. Damn.