Archive for the ‘Language and politics’ Category

Language politics

April 12, 2014

Via a chain of colleagues, from April 7th, this story on the UTV site: “Man charged for speaking Irish to police”:

A man has appeared in court on anti-terrorism charges after he gave his name and address to police in Irish.

Dermot Douglas of Mellows Park in Dublin appeared in Londonderry Magistrates’ Court charged with not giving his details to the best of his ability under the Justice and Security Act on 6 March.

Defence solicitor Brian Stelfox told the court his client had come out of a house in the Creggan area of the city and had been stopped by police and gave his details in Irish.

The case was adjourned until May.


A little more on dog whistles etc.

April 7, 2014

In the previous installment (4/4/14, here), Geoff Nunberg was looking for a good term to use for a particular class of racially coded vocabularly, for a discussion on public radio: dog whistle, euphemism, whatever. He makes the point that the purpose of this vocabulary is crucial.

On the next day, on ADS-L, from Geoff:

the figure is designed to avoid unambiguously suggesting certain social attitudes to listeners who disapprove of them (as distinct from euphemisns, which enable the speaker to avoid uttering a coextensive term that some listeners find unsavory).  “Obliquity” conveys one part of this, and “conivinutation” nicely conveys the other, though neither is a word they would let you use on public radio.

Obliquity, though rare, is not unattested. But conivinutation?


Dog whistles and more

April 4, 2014

On ADS-L on the 2nd, Geoff Nunberg started a discussion about political language coded for race. The background is dog whistle politics.


Three cartoons

November 4, 2013

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).


Briefly noted: uncivil political discourse

October 12, 2013

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.)

Hyperbolic metaphors

October 9, 2013

Frank Bruni in an op-ed column in the NYT yesterday, “Nazis, Lynching and Obamacare”, beginning:

You might think that the methodical extermination of millions of Jews by a brutal regime intent on world domination would resist appropriation as an all-purpose metaphor. You might think that genocide, of all things, would be safe from conversion into sloppy simile.

You’d be wrong.

Bruni catalogues an assortment of ravingly hyperbolic similes in recent times, mostly (but not entirely) associated with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Comparisons to: Nazis and the Holocaust, lynch mobs, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, slavery, and hostage taking.


¡Sí Se Puede!

October 8, 2013

Following up on yesterday’s posting “Yes we can”, on the slogan, Eric Holeman asked on Facebook,

Which came first: “Yes, we can,” or “Si, se puede!”?

The straightforward answer to the question framed this way is “¡Sí Se Puede!”, but a full answer is moderately complex.


Temper, temper

September 8, 2013

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.


Colander song

August 31, 2013

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.


Concealing by language

August 26, 2013

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.



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