Archive for the ‘Language and society’ Category

black, Black, etc.

November 22, 2014

From an op-ed column in the NYT on the 19th, “The Case for Black With a Capital B” by Lori L. Tharps:

this is one of my greatest frustrations as a writer and a Black woman living in the United States. When speaking of a culture, ethnicity or group of people, the name should be capitalized. Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora. Lowercase black is simply a color.

Linguists, academics and activists have been making this point for years, yet the publishing industry — our major newspapers, magazines and books — resist making this simple yet fundamental change. Both Oxford and Webster’s dictionaries state that when referring to African-Americans, Black can be and often is capitalized, but the New York Times and Associated Press stylebooks continue to insist on black with a lowercase b. Ironically, The Associated Press also decrees that the proper names of “nationalities, peoples, races, tribes” should be capitalized. What are Black people, then?

I’m not going to object to this orthographic proposal, but I am going to argue that (though it’s innocuous) it’s not especially useful and is seriously confused on the nature of the categories at issue.

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Taking offense: three stories

November 19, 2014

Three stories (two of them recent) about taking offense: on spear phishing; Illegal Pete’s; and frape. First, some background on taking offense.

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widows and widowers

November 17, 2014

I chanced to reflect a few days ago on the words widow and widower, noting that there was “no word” (well, no olfesc — ordinary-language fixed expression of some currency) that covered them both; the union of the categories WIDOW and WIDOWER can certainly be expressed in English, but we have no quick and easy way of doing this.

So: some notes on the part of the domain of kinship vocabulary to which widow and widower belong.

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Rising pitch

January 26, 2014

In the Stanford freshman seminar on language in the comics, the topic of rising intonation at the end of intonational units came, with the predictable impression from some (by no means all) of the students that it was associated with asking questions. And then I was pointed to a piece by artist Taylor Mali, “Speak with conviction”, complaining about “invisible quesion marks”. There’s a deep but understandable confusion here.

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Social memory

December 28, 2013

From GayStarNews on the 17th, in “Taylor Kitsch ‘had no idea about the whole AIDS epidemic’ before filming The Normal Heart: Actor plays closeted Wall Street executive in denial about having the disease” by Greg Hernandez:

‘I mean, look: I was born in ’81. I had no idea about the whole AIDS epidemic,’ the actor tellsVulture.

Social memory is surprisingly shallow. Events vanish with great speed. My studemts (in their 20s and 30s) know virtually nothing about the Vietnam War or the protests surrounding it. Then it turned out out that several acquaintances (in their 20s) knew essentially nothing about the AIDS epidemic — this after some emotional reminiscences from me.

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girls, women, gals

October 30, 2013

On Facebook, Ann Burlingham has passed on this posting (from February 1st), “Why Are We Referring to Women as Girls?” by Yashar Ali, about men referring to women in the workplace as girls. (Note: Yashar Ali is a man.)

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scandal

August 30, 2013

In the New Yorker of 8/26/13, a letter on p. 5 from Richard M. Perloff, Professor of Communication at Cleveland State University, Cleveland OH, beginning:

Dangerous Liaisons
Hendrik Hertzberg, writing about Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, and their forerunners in the delicate pas de deux between private misdeeds and public behavior, assumes that sex scandals have an objective quality (Comment, August 12th and 19th). Whether a series of transgressions merits the label “scandal” is itself a contentious issue that is a function of social norms and cultural values.

Perloff goes on to discuss some specific cases, and I’ll get to these. But first some lexicographic notes.

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Respecting each other

July 20, 2013

The short version of an ad for a gay dating/cruising app:

MISTER is an online community for men who value themselves and other men. Unlike other gay social networking apps, MISTER encourages users to show their faces, show respect, spend less time searching and more time meeting men in the real world. The users of our app are proud to say, “I am MISTER.”

(There will eventually be a linguistic point.)

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Class accents

June 6, 2013

From “Pedigree” by Walter Kirn, a personal history in the June 10 & 17/13 New Yorker (the Crimes and Misdemeanors issue), about a con man and convicted murderer he knew as Clark Rockefeller:

He spoke with an accent, clipped and international, and occasionally tossed in a word (“erstwhile,” “improprietous”) that tied a bow on the sentence that included it. I’d met a few people like him during college [Princeton] — pedigreed, boastful, overschooled eccentrics who spoke like cousins of Katharine Hepburn and always seemed to have prematurely thinning hair and delicate, intestinal-pink skin. But I was brought up in rural Minnesota, deep in manure-scented dairy country, and never succeeded in getting close to them. Their clubs wouldn’t have me; I didn’t play their sports. (p. 91)

Turns out that Clark Rockefeller was born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter in rural Bavaria and had

fashioned a manner based on a pop-culture travesty of wealth: Thurston Howell III, of “Gilligan’s Island.” (p. 92)

In the U.S. he ran through a number of identities, often connecting himself to famous people — among them, Christopher Chichester (Sir Francis Chichester), Christopher Crowe (Cameron Crowe), and of course Clark Rockefeller.

Speaking like a cousin of Katharine Hepburn is a nice touch.

 

 

How ’bout them Cubbies?

May 12, 2013

Today’s Zippy:

So the strip is “about” hair(s), but it’s also “about” How ’bout them Cubbies?

(On a personal hair and holiday note: I’m watching Hairspray for Mothers Day.)

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