Three cartoons from Saturday: a Dilbert (on the nature of human beings); a Pearls Before Swine (with yet another ambiguity); and a Zippy (on politics, sort of).
Archive for the ‘Language and politics’ Category
A 10/10 letter to the New York Times from Mike McCurry of Kensington MD (press secretary under President Clinton from 1995 to 1998):
Frank Bruni is correct to argue that elected leaders, and average citizens for that matter, should “watch our words” so that passionate arguments about politics don’t go over the top (“Nazis, Lynching and Obamacare,” column, Oct. 8 [posted on here]).
There is no doubt that metaphor and vocabulary have grown nastier in the nation’s capital. But should not news organizations also play a role in encouraging a more civil discourse? If editors and reporters dismissed quotes and sound bites that border on the outrageous and focused instead on those who argue more substantively and perhaps more gently, maybe our headline-hungry politicians would curb their bombast.
An earnest proposal, but one that overestimates the power of mainstream news organizations (the ones that actually have reporters and editors). If these organizations dismissed incendiary language and outrageous claims, the tone of public discourse might moderate a bit; but these organizations supply only a small part of the stream of “information” that the public gets. (It’s even possible that offending politicians would double down on their outrageousness, to increase their presence outside of the mainstream media.)
In the NYT on the 5th, a column by Michael Powell, “Wondering What’s So Novel About a New York Politician With a Temper”, about Christine Quinn:
You know the question is coming because it almost always does. A reporter or news anchor scrunches up his nose and peers at Christine C. Quinn, the long-serving City Council speaker and one shrewd pol, and inquires:
So Ms. Quinn, you, ah, yell a lot. Is your temper a problem?
Ms. Quinn, who has perfected a glazed-eye lobotomized smile when addressing this question, slowly, sweetly, carefully confesses that, yes, yes, she has been known to raise her voice.
So it was in the debate on Tuesday. A reporter asked her to address her “short temper.” “Look, I’m tough,” she responded. “If I have to make some people uncomfortable and occasionally raise my voice to get something done. …”
She was politic. But me? I wanted to throw my shoe at the television and ask (loudly, of course): Good God, a New Yorker with a temper? Knock me over with a feather.
… I’ve covered a few mayors as a reporter. As often, the highly effective ones (or at least the highly entertaining ones) hail from the “I’m-a-jerk?-No-you’re-a-jerk!” school of conversation. To dwell for a while in City Hall’s acoustically resonant rotunda is to hear sonic conversations larded with wonderfully inventive, not to mention poetic, unprintables in English, Yiddish and Spanish.
Quinn is taxed about her temper in a way that other politicians are not because, of course, she’s a woman, in a world that is almost entirely male — and packed with short-tempered, confrontational men.
From Frank McQuarry on Facebook this morning:
“I love, I love, I love my little colander tool….”
An allusion to the song “Calendar Girl” — and a lead-in to Pastafarianism and recent politics in Russia.
In the NYT on the 19th, “Learn to Talk in Beggars’ Cant” by Daniel Heller-Roazen, beginning:
Rulers have long kept certain powers hidden from their subjects. But this summer’s disclosures concerning the surveillance practices of the National Security Agency have made it clear that today’s freedom of expression comes at the price of a new power: the state’s ability to burrow ever deeper, by technological means, into the private language of ordinary citizens.
… In a time when speech is subjected to unprecedented scrutiny, it is worth recalling that the safest way to express a subversive thought is to clothe it in unfamiliar garb. We can learn how from another motley cast of characters, including children, rebels, beggars and scribes. Long ago, such outsiders and outlaws twisted the languages that they shared with others, making of them new and unheard things: obscure jargons, which allowed them to communicate safely among themselves.
From John Lanchester’s “1979 and all that: Margaret Thatcher’s revolution”, in the 8/5/13 New Yorker (p. 71), with remarks on her managerial competence and her conversational skills.
In the NYT on the 26th, the story “A Continent Mired in Crisis Coins a Language of Economic Pain” by Raphael Minder, which begins:
MADRID — The Portuguese have a new word, “grandolar,” which grew out of the euro crisis and means “to subject a government minister to a singing protest using a revolutionary hymn.” But now, after three years of austerity, even Portuguese children “grandolate” their parents if they do not want to take a bath.
Well, not a whole language, but a vocabulary in the economic domain.