Archive for the ‘Language and politics’ Category

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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Triumphalist bad taste

November 22, 2014

(not a lot of linguistic interest, but some ick factor)

Severed heads are, regrettably, much in the news these days. In an only too topical piece by Dan Chiasson, “Heads Will Roll: The story of a morbid curiosity” (Harper’s Magazine, Dec. 2014, p. 93-6), a review of Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Found, by Frances Larson:

Power inevitably enters the discourse around heads, and especially the heads of tyrants. For centuries, one of the most prized collectibles on the market was the head of Oliver Cromwell, which had a metal spike driven up its neck and out the top of its skull. Cromwell had been buried in state, but his body was exhumed after the Restoration, subjected to posthumous execution, and decapitated. His head was displayed atop Westminster Hall for more than twenty years, until a storm brought it down.

Westminster Hall is the meeting place of the two houses of Parliament — that is, the center of government, here firmly identified as the province of the Anglican Church.

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What they say in public in their own language to their own people

November 14, 2014

Very briefly noted.

Thomas Friedman in his op-ed column in the NYT on the 12th, on “Freud and the Middle East”, beginning:

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates — When trying to make sense of the Middle East, one of the most important rules to keep in mind is this: What politicians here tell you in private is usually irrelevant. What matters most, and what explains their behavior more times than not, is what they say in public in their own language to their own people.

What Friedman discerned was two separate stories about a developing caliphate in the Middle East: a straightforwardly Shiite story and a straightforward Sunni story. Very worrisome indeed.

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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