Archive for the ‘Language and politics’ Category

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.

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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.)

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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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Sideways denial

May 24, 2015

Today’s Doonesbury, in which Barack Obama toys with the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell

Much as McConnell would like to deny that the sky is blue, that’s too much for him to assert directly, so he says that he’s not qualified to answer the question, in effect issuing a sideways denial.

The strategy is familiar from the positions politicians take on climate denial.

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A panderthon

May 22, 2015

The cover of the June 2015 Funny Times, by Matt Wuerker:

What caught my eye was panderthon, (roughly) ‘an interminable occasion of pandering’, with the libfix -(a)thon. The word is especially associated with political pandering, as here.

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Administrative thrashing in France

May 13, 2015

In the May 9th issue of the Economist, a fascinating article on a forthcoming reorganization of the administrative regions of Metropolitan France: “New kids on the block: Redrawing regional boundaries is causing big rows and will save little”. The crucial map:

You will see that the regions correspond crudely to the large historical provinces of France, so they tend to be associated with significant social identities; as a result, messing with the boundaries is politically fraught.

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Wiscahnsin

March 22, 2015

In yesterday’s NYT, a piece by Patrick Healy, “For 2016 Run, Scott Walker Washes ‘Wiscahnsin’ Out of His Mouth”, beginning:

Columbia, S.C. — Out on the presidential campaign trail, Gov. Scott Walker has left “Wiscahnsin” back home in Wisconsin. He now wants to strengthen the economy, not the “ecahnahmy.” And while he once had the “ahnor” of meeting fellow Republicans, he told one group here this week that he simply enjoyed “talkin’ with y’all.”

The classic Upper Midwest accent — nasal and full of flat a’s — is one of several Walker trademarks to have fallen away this month after an intense period of strategizing and coaching designed to help Mr. Walker capitalize on his popularity in early polls and show that he is not some provincial politician out of his depth.

Although Healy leads with pronunciation matters, they are not the focus of the piece, which is about how Walker is being coached in general on ways to make himself attractive to a wide range of voters.

Now on the main dialect feature in question, the Upper Midwest “flat a”.

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Ratface

December 13, 2014

She came across a “ratfaced man” in a KGB uniform who went on passionately about his plan for a Greater Russia that would embrace ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, wherever they were. Yes, Vladimir Putin, as described in a newspaper column I read some time ago (but haven’t been able to find), telling about a meeting that was obviously from some years ago. What especially caught my eye was the “ratfaced”, which caused me to think of the Russian dictator as Vladimir “Ratface” Putin, a gangster like Al “Scarface” Capone”, Jack “Legs” Diamond, and all the rest.

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Rioting

November 29, 2014

Much of the discussion of the rioting in Ferguson MO after the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, by white police officer Darren Wilson — especially by white commenters — has focused on property damage during what started as protests over police actions. Relatively even-handed report from Wikipedia:

The shooting sparked protests and unrest in Ferguson, in part due to the belief among many that Brown was surrendering, as well as longstanding racial tensions between the majority-black Ferguson community and the majority-white city government and police. Protests, both peaceful and violent, along with vandalism and looting, continued for more than a week, resulting in night curfews. The response of area police agencies in dealing with the protests received significant criticism from the media and politicians.

The white response has tended to paint the protestors as dangerous and out of control, drawing on negative stereotypes of blacks. Black commenters point instead to long-standing grievances, amounting to rage, over police actions. (This rage doesn’t of course excuse property damage, but it does explain the depth of the black response.)

Now a tour of rioting of various sorts, following some personal observations about police forces.

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Huffing and puffing over the Man Booker Prize

November 23, 2014

In the 12/4/14 New York Review of Books, a piece on the 2013 winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction in English (James Walton’s “Star Fiction”, reviewing The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton) begins with this year’s controversy over the prize (with the bit I’m going to focus on bold-faced):

The year 2014 was famously the first time that Americans have been eligible for the [Man Booker Prize], alongside those from Britain, the British Commonwealth, and Ireland. It was a change of rules that had been discussed for years, but when the decision was finally announced, the reaction was not – I think it’s fair to say – wholly positive. The 2011 winner Julian Barnes called it simply “a bad idea,” while Philip Hensher, former judge and shortlistee, wrote a piece in The Guardian headlined, “Well, that’s tbe end of the Booker prize, then.” Just days before this year’s ceremony Peter Carey – who holds dual US-Australian citizenship, and is one of the prize’s few double winners – lamented the “particular cultural flavour” that will be lost: “There was and there is a real Commonwealth culture. It’s different. America doesn’t really feel to be a part of that.”

Ah, the US isn’t really Commonwealth material, Carey sniffs, alluding to a fantasized cultural commonality sentimentally uniting the Commonwealth of Nations under the reigning monarch of the UK (currently Queen Elizabeth II).

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