Archive for the ‘Social life’ Category

Prefix + FN

November 14, 2015

In yesterday’s posting on “Address terms in service encounters”, I looked at an unfortunate confluence of two patterns of vocatives: one in address terms used to me by some Hispanic servers at the restaurant Reposado in Palo Alto (in particular, the address term Mr. Arnold), and one in address terms used by slaves to their masters in plantation days (in particular the address form Mr. FN, as in Mr. Simon used by slaves to address their master Simon Legree) and (historically, a continuation of the slave practice to post-slavery contexts, but still involving blacks addressing whites) by employees in some parts of the South to their employers (again, the address form Mr. FN, as in Mr. Keene used by a stableman to address his employer Keene Daingerfield in Lexington KY a couple generations ago). The two address forms are formally identical, and both are used by speakers providing a service to the addressee, but the sociocultural contexts are very different, and the (inadvertent) echo of slave usage in a Mexican restaurant is unpleasant.

Now it turns out that Prefix (Mr./Miss) + FN turns up in a number of circumstances where providing services is not at issue, including some in which the form is not at root a vocative, but functions instead as a kind of professional name, which can be used referentially or vocatively. In these contexts, race is not in the mix, and there are no unfortunate echoes of slavery. Get ready for teachers of young children, psychics, and male hairdressers.


Address terms in service encounters

November 13, 2015

A Bizarro from long ago (May 25th), with a groan-worthy pun on senior and señor (roughly ‘Mr.’ in referential use):

Now some words about referential vs. vocative uses of names (Arnold Zwicky, Arnold, Zwicky, Mr. Arnold, Mr. Zwicky, Prof. Zwicky) and prefixes (like Mister or Professor on their own), both in English and Spanish, all this as a preface to some discussion of address terms in service encounters, where servers have a complex task in balancing the desire to show respect to the customer and the desire to express closeness and friendliness.


Diversity officer

November 4, 2015

Today’s Scenes From a Multiverse:

Two things here: the adaptation of the Star Trek characters; and diversity as a sociocultural concept, including diversity officers in organizations.


Morning: The Cockettes

October 14, 2015

Another from the backlog of morning names here: back to the outrageous 70s (which we tend to think of as “the 60s”). From Wikipedia:

The Cockettes were a psychedelic theater troupe founded by Hibiscus (George Harris) in the fall of 1969. The troupe was formed out of a group of hippies, men and women, that were living together communally in Haight-Ashbury. Hibiscus came to live with them because of their preference to dressing outrageously and proposed the idea of putting their lifestyle on the stage. Their brand of theater was influenced by The Living Theater, John Vaccaro’s Play House of the Ridiculous, the films of Jack Smith and the LSD ethos of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. The troupe performed all original material doing mostly musicals with original songs. The first year they parodied American musicals and sang show tunes (or original musical comedies in the same vein). They gained an underground cult following that led to mainstream exposure.

… The Cockettes were the subject of a 2002 documentary, The Cockettes.

The name is a play on the name The Rockettes (the dance company that performs at Rockefeller Center in NYC), portmanteaued with cock ‘penis’.

A set of clips from the documentary:

Morning name: Gluyas Williams

October 14, 2015

Slowly working my way through the backlog of morning names listed here. Now the cartoonist Gluyas Williams. From Wikipedia:

Gluyas Williams (July 23, 1888 – February 13, 1982) was an American cartoonist, notable for his contributions to The New Yorker and other major magazines. … His cartoons employed a clean black-and-white style and often dealt with prevailing themes of the day such as Prohibition.

Williams’s work is not much seen today, perhaps because he was primarily an illustrator — of the writings of humorist Robert Benchley and as a social critic, observing the masses and the rising middle classes.


Freaks, then and now

August 29, 2015

Yesterday’s Zippy:

Bill Griffith has done a number of strips on Schlitzie, the movie Freaks, and sideshow attractions. That was then. Now we have a freak show on tv, one that specializes in demeaning revelations and angry confrontations. A dismaying take on social life.


Annals of cultural diversity: B&H Dairy

August 22, 2015

The latest episode in the tale of B&H Dairy, in NYC’s East Village: from yesterday’s NYT, a triumph: “B&H Dairy in the East Village Reopens After Months of Red Tape” by Jim Dwyer:

At lunchtime Thursday, there wasn’t an empty stool or seat to be had at B&H Dairy, a venerable 400-square-foot restaurant in the East Village that survived the Second Avenue gas explosion in March but appeared doomed when it was bound and gagged in red tape. The place managed to reopen a few days ago, and everyone has come back.

… Working the cash register, Ola Smigielska, who owns B&H with her husband, Fawzy Abdelwahed, greeted each customer who stopped to chat and wondered how they had lasted so long without the stick-to-the-kishkes blintzes.

… B&H is a kosher dairy restaurant created 80 years ago for a generation of Jewish immigrants that has long since moved on. It is now run by a Polish Catholic, Ms. Smigielska, and an Egyptian Muslim, Mr. Abdelwahed. They sell T-shirts printed with the words “Challah! Por favor.”

A triumph of cultural diversity, pretty much possible only in a cosmopolitan city: a highly culture-specific resource maintains itself even after the people who originally used and staffed it have moved elsewhere, only to be replaced by people from other cultures. It’s as if Kosher Dairy Restaurant had taken on a life of its own. B&H Dairy is now staffed by a Polish Catholic and an Egytian Muslim (who are, wonderfully, married to one another) and its clientele, all devoted to the food, are drawn from a huge slice of urban groups.


Raced and gendered (and classed)

July 30, 2015

On the 27th, in Charles M. Blow’s op-ed column in the NYT, “At Sandra Bland’s Funeral, Celebration and Defiance”:

Bland didn’t demur and knuckle under. Some have criticized her for her stance during the traffic stop, suggesting that if she had behaved differently, with more respect for the officer, she might have avoided arrest.

Maybe. But, it must always be remembered that the parameters of “respectable behavior” are both raced and gendered. The needle moves to differing positions for different people. That is, I believe, one of the reasons that this minor traffic stop so quickly escalated.

How dare a woman not present as a damsel? How dare a black person not bow in obsequiousness?

I was of course familiar with gendered, but the parallel raced was new to me, though it seems to have considerable currency among politically aware social critics. And, yes, there’s also the parallel classed.


“part of who we are”

June 27, 2015

One of the developments in South Carolina has to do with the Confederate battle flag flying on the dome of the statehouse there: what does it mean? and should it be taken down?

The full history of the flag is complex, but there’s no question that after the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s it was used as a powerful symbol of Southern resistance to the movement, black people, and the federal government.

Into this terrain walked Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose first response was to protest that the battle flag is an integral “part of who we are”, part of the Southern heritage, and as such should be proudly preserved in situ. (His position later moderated.)

The first thing to ask about his statement is: who are the we in what he said? From the larger context, I assume that Graham’s intention was to refer to Southerners in general  (or at least to South Carolinians). But I can’t credit that claim.


Deserved drowning

May 6, 2015

Passed on by John McIntyre, yesterday’s Wondermark, which is mostly social, rather than linguistic, commentary:

Pointed social commentary from David Malki. In the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge’s “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

(The notion of water vagrants is nice.)


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