Archive for the ‘Language and politics’ Category

natural person

September 13, 2014

In the NYT on 9/11, an editorial “An Amendment to Cut Political Cash”, with the now-familiar retronym natural person:

There are 48 Democratic senators sponsoring a constitutional amendment to restore congressional control to campaign spending that is expected to come up for a vote later this week. They are not under the illusion that it will become the 28th Amendment soon, if ever. But their willingness to undertake a long and difficult effort shows the importance they attach to restoring fairness to American politics by reducing the influence of big money.

… Addressing the Citizens United decision, [the amendment] says that governments can “distinguish between natural persons and corporations” in setting those regulations, thus allowing restrictions on corporate or union spending that would not necessarily apply to individuals.

Ordinary people would simply make a distinction between persons and corporations, but once corporations are treated as persons for certain legal purposes, the ‘human being’ sense of person needs to be distinguished from these legal entities — and so we get the retronym natural person ‘human being’.

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A further Nixonian note

August 11, 2014

In a posting yesterday I paired Richard M. Nixon with the poet Frank O’Hara, both of whom have significant anniversaries this year:

A startling juxtaposition of personalities: the awkward, often surly, and fiercely ambitious politician Nixon versus the charming and gregarious poet, with his great gift for friendship.

I went on the embroider some on O’Hara, but didn’t expand on my brief and cautious characterization of Nixon. Into the breach steps distinguished historian David M. Kennedy in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, in “On the Record: ‘The Nixon Tapes 1971-1972’ and ‘The Nixon Defense’ “, which hits RMN with both barrels.

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Three more diverse

May 24, 2014

Three recent cartoons on divergent subjects: a Bizarro with language play turning on ambiguity; a Scenes From a Multiverse with metacommentary by the characters; and another classic Watergate Doonesbury, from 1974, with the denominal verb to stonewall.

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“illegal”

May 22, 2014

Yesterday’s Classic Doonesbury from 1974 (#1, here) looked at the foul mouth of Richard Nixon (and his aides) from Watergate days. Today (again from 1974) we get the President defining the limits of what counts, in U.S. law, as a prosecutable defense (in ordinary language, what counts as illegal):

(Bonus from the Watergate tapes: Nixon’s paranoid anti-Semitism, in his bitter ravings about the Jews.)

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Three diverse

May 21, 2014

This morning: a classic Doonesbury on foul language; a Rhymes With Orange citing the spurious “rule” that an English clause must not end in a preposition; and a Zippy looking back at an ad icon of the 1940s and 50s (“drink more flavored liqueurs”, says Judge Arrow).

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An epicene protest

May 13, 2014

In a bizarre response to the winning of the Eurovision Song Contest by a bearded drag queen, Conchita Wurst singing “Rise Like a Phoenix” (reported in almost every media outlet), some Russian men have taken to shaving off their beards (if they had them). The position seems to be that Wurst’s beard so poisons beards as a symbol of masculinity that real men have no way to protest except by going beardless. (The idea here seems to some degree to be similar to the position that same-sex marriage diminishes and debases opposite-sex marriage — except that in the Wurst case, the threat comes from a single case: just one, though admittedly very visible, bearded man in a dress.)

The result is paradoxical.

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Three on Mothers Day

May 11, 2014

This morning’s crop of cartoons with some linguistic interest: a Rhymes With Orange that is, among other things, about Mothers Day; a Mother Goose and Grimm with, in passing, an interesting example of out as a preposition; and a Doonesbury on outsider / folk art.

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lobbying / bribing

May 2, 2014

Yesterday’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:

(#1

(#2)

Lobbying is legal, bribery not, but in the U.S. the laws governing lobbying are complex enough that it’s not always clear when lobbying activities cross the line. The scheme in the cartoon is a transparent and cynical attempt to blur the line.

(Hat tip to Paul Armstrong.)

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.

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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?

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