Archive for the ‘Language and politics’ Category

On the campaign trail with Vermin Supreme

November 25, 2015

Through various people on Facebook, reports on the presidential candidacy of Vermin Supreme.


From Wikipedia:


Lame taboo avoidance

October 29, 2015

From the Washington Post on the 27th, the story “Lindsey Graham pours beers, contemplates marrying Carly Fiorina’ by David Weigel, beginning:

Boulder, Colo. — Low poll numbers almost kept him out of Wednesday’s “undercard” CNBC debate, but Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s presidential campaign made it to Colorado — and took him into territory where few campaigns would tread. Graham (R-S.C.) was the inaugural guest at CNN’s “Politics on Tap” happy hour, its first celebrity bartender and its first participant in a twist on a somewhat salacious name game usually reserved for slumber parties.

The game has a variety of names — kill, fuck, marry;  fuck, marry, killfuck, marry, dumpmarry, fuck, kill — but all have fuck in them, and most have kill as well.


Words of One Syllable Dept.

October 22, 2015

For some time now, the New York Times has been reporting, in almost daily stories, on the Canadian elections, culminating in Liberal Justin Trudeau succeeding Conservative Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. Some of these stories, by Ian Austen, refer to an episode in Trudeau’s past that some have interpreted as showing that Trudeau was not mature enough to serve as his nation’s political leader. A version from yesterday, in Austen’s “Justin Trudeau, Son of a Canadian Leader, Follows His Own Path to Power”, about Trudeau’s history:

Mr. Trudeau showed a penchant for unscripted remarks that could be refreshing or embarrassing. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canadian fighter jets would join the American-led campaign against the Islamic State militant group, Mr. Trudeau responded with a vulgar metaphor that many called juvenile.

Now, I’ve been following Canadian politics (at some distance, the way I follow American politics; it’s often a crazy, dirty business), and I recall Trudeau strongly opposing Harper’s fighter-jet proposal, but I don’t recall any “vulgar metaphor” or any outcry about one, and I can’t find any evidence of it on the net. Of course, the proudly fastidious Times wouldn’t actually cite offensive language, but Austen doesn’t even cite or link to any story in which the episode was reported in the clear, with context. So there’s no way for me to judge whether Trudeau “broke the unwritten law” (cue the Piranha Brothers) and merited opprobrium. Words of one syllable.

[Added a bit later: Ben Zimmer has now tracked down the actual quote, which is much less exciting than Austen made it out to be. More below to fold.]


Tawkin’ the tawk

October 7, 2015

An op-ed piece in the NYT on Monday (the 5th) by my old friend Michael Newman (who professes linguistics at Queens College and the Graduate Center of CUNY) entitled “Voters May Just Want to ‘Tawk’” (in print) and “How a New York Accent Can Help You Get Ahead” (on-line) and beginning:

Their partisans may be loath to admit it, but Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump do in fact share some common ground. There is of course their upstart, outsider image. Then they share a posture of forthrightness and candor. A third similarity is how they talk. Not what they say, but how they sound: Like they’re from New York.

Trump and Sanders

Newman cites the work of Deborah Tannen on conversational style:

New Yorkers tend to have a different conversational style than other Americans. New Yorkers usually favor being more direct. We speak over one another, particularly to show our engagement with what our interlocutor is saying. We like to tell long stories. And we don’t mind arguing as long as it is not too personal.

Back in 2012 I wrote about “Overlapping” in speech and associated stylistic features, citing Tannen on Sonia Sotomayor, referring to

what I’ve called “machine gun style,” the rat-tat-tat impression made on those who expect less directness, slower speech, and longer pauses between turns.

I added:

This high-involvement style is stereotypically associated with New Yorkers and Jews, but is more widespread than that. I use the style myself, in a (usually) muted variant, but didn’t realize that until I moved from the East Coast to the middle of Illinois, where the locals found my speech “rude” and “pushy”. Unsurprisingly, it’s most pronounced when I’m in a conversation with someone (like Tannen herself) who uses the style.

Now back to Newman:

Sociolinguists — scholars of language in society — call the way that forms of speech entail social meanings “indexicality.” A sound or a system of sounds, popularly called an accent, points to or indexes a particular social meaning. A basic example is dropping Rs, saying “coffee” with a raised aw vowel and producing Ts and Ds on the teeth rather than the alveolar ridge behind the teeth, which all index together a New York identity…The New York identity, in the case of a speaker like Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders, in turn links to stereotypes of New Yorkers that exist in the culture, such as being frank and combative in speech.

… Voters might not want to hear from politicians at all, but for many, a stump speech is, it seems, more palatable in a New York accent.

The Hairdresser Illuminati

September 20, 2015

Yesterday’s Dilbert has a wonderful concept in it — a shadowy organization that controls the world by manipulating the hairstyles of political candidates, as Dogbert explains it — with an even more wonderful name: the Hairdresser Illuminati:

Don’t know what the HI word on Donald Trump is.


Seedy invasives

August 22, 2015

In my “More plant families” posting yesterday, I turned to two big families I’d missed in an earlier posting and then to my recollections of plants in my Columbus OH garden that were self-seeding and/or self-hybridizing: cleomes, California poppies, opium poppies, foxgloves, borage, columbines, tradescantia, nasturtiums, and then I looked at the plant families they belonged to — a project that added 8 more families to the 9 I’d looked at in the earlier posting and the two I’d looked at in my “Penstemon” posting. (If you’re counting families, the score is now 19.)

Now I want to switch my focus from the intricacies of botanical taxonomy (without abandoning the topic entirely) to the significance of self-seeding (or self-sowing), one form of invasiveness in the gardening world, one way in which plants can spread so as to take over parts of a garden. The other is vegetative spread, by division or, especially, by creeping (via underground roots or surface runners). You’ve got your seedy invasives and you’ve got your creepy invasives.

Of course, the topic goes well beyond these homey horticultural matters, to invasive plants — and animals — on a much larger scale, where invasiveness has taken on political significance of several kinds. Eventually I intend to post about a piece by Andrew Cockburn in the September 2015 Harper’s, “Weed Whackers: Monsanto, glyphosphate, and the war on invasive species”.


Donood Twump

August 17, 2015

Today’s Zippy, in which Z-Man transforms the combover king into a Donald-Duck talking drug mule for a Mexican drug cartel (a just fate, I suppose):


Z-Man seems to have appeared just once before on his blog: 8/8/12: “The caped psychopath gets flown to Ashtabula”. But here are two earlier strips:



Raced and gendered (and classed)

July 30, 2015

On the 27th, in Charles M. Blow’s op-ed column in the NYT, “At Sandra Bland’s Funeral, Celebration and Defiance”:

Bland didn’t demur and knuckle under. Some have criticized her for her stance during the traffic stop, suggesting that if she had behaved differently, with more respect for the officer, she might have avoided arrest.

Maybe. But, it must always be remembered that the parameters of “respectable behavior” are both raced and gendered. The needle moves to differing positions for different people. That is, I believe, one of the reasons that this minor traffic stop so quickly escalated.

How dare a woman not present as a damsel? How dare a black person not bow in obsequiousness?

I was of course familiar with gendered, but the parallel raced was new to me, though it seems to have considerable currency among politically aware social critics. And, yes, there’s also the parallel classed.


An appellmanteau

July 22, 2015

Frank Bruni in the NYT Sunday Review on the 19th, in “La Dolce Donald Trump”, beginning:

In Rome about a dozen years ago, I had a long dinner with Donald Trump.

Only his name was Silvio Berlusconi.

Aren’t they essentially the same man? The same myth?

They have the same obsession with their wealth. Same need to crow about it. Same belief that it’s the irrefutable measure of their genius. Same come-on to countrymen: If I enriched myself, I can enrich you.

They’re priapic twins, identical in their insistence on being seen as paragons of irresistible lust. If hideously sexist utterances ensue, so be it. Loins before decency. Pheromones over good sense.

… [Italians] repeatedly elected [Berlusconi], so that he could actually do what Trump is still merely auditioning to do: use his country as a gaudy throne and an adoring mirror as he ran it into the ground.

Trump is Berlusconi in waiting, with less cosmetic surgery. Berlusconi is Trump in senescence, with even higher alimony payments.

Trumpusconi is a study in the peril and pitfalls of unchecked testosterone and tumescent avarice.

No minced words here. But a nice portmanteau name, combining Trump and Berlusconi into a single appellation.(Berluscrump would also have been possible.)


Two political cartoonists

May 25, 2015

To link to a posting on Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, some notes on Watterson’s favorite political / editorial cartoonists, Pat Oliphant and Jim Borgman.



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