Archive for November, 2010

how / that

November 25, 2010

Comic Blunt Card with how used as a complementizer, roughly like that:

(Hat tip to Chris Ambidge.)


Every girl every boy

November 25, 2010

A gender-subversion poster — I have a postcard version of it — from CrimethInc, adapted from a poem by Nancy R. Smith:


Flagrant failure of parallelism

November 25, 2010

Writers are constantly advised that items in a list (in coordination in running text, in a bulleted list, in each level of an outline) must be parallel in form, in particular must all have the same syntactic structure (some Language Log discussion here). This is a struggle for the typical writer, who is just trying to convey a series of ideas, each in whatever form seems most natural to the writer. So we get flagrantly non-parallel lists, as on this postcard from Boston:


Vernacular writing

November 24, 2010

On Language Log recently, a Dinosaur Comics cartoon by Ryan North, with commentary by the cartoonist, entitled



Concealing and revealing

November 23, 2010

On AZBlogX, three pieces (so far) on how men are presented in male photography, in particular on the conspicuous concealment vs. flagrant display of their penises, in several different styles of photography:

11/7/10: Concealing and revealing (link): starting with Jack Pierson and going on to others

11/16/10: Concealing and revealing: Fred Goudon (link): Virility

11/23/10: Concealing and revealing: more Fred Goudon (link): Cinq






In September and October

November 23, 2010

The story starts in September, with a YouTube video “It Gets Better” by Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller (married in Canada, as described in Savage’s wonderful book The Commitment), aimed at giving hope and support to lgbt teens and other persecuted young people.


Encounters and pranks

November 22, 2010

Two collections of linguistic points in the reporting following on the suicide of Rutgers-Piscataway freshman Tyler Clementi: one having to do with the terms used to describe an encounter between Clementi and another man that lies at the center of the story, one having to do with the characterization of the streaming of video of the encounter by Clementi’s roommate and a friend of his.


A comma, doctor!

November 21, 2010

Shaoni Bhattacharya, “Tracking the rhino killers”, New Scientist of November 20:

Typically gangs [of poachers] fly in on light aircraft, use veterinary darts to sedate animals and cut off their horns without alerting rangers, then leave the animals to bleed to death.

Unpleasant story. But the first time through, I read the sentence as having cut off their horns parallel to sedate animals — that is, as saying that the poachers use veterinary darts to sedate animals and (somehow) to cut off their horns — rather than to the “higher” VP use veterinary darts to sedate animals, which, on a moment’s reflection, is clearly the intended sense.

“Low” readings are often seductive, but in this case the incorrect low reading could easily have been excluded, by the use of a serial comma:

Typically gangs fly in on light aircraft, use veterinary darts to sedate animals, and cut off their horns without alerting rangers, then leave the animals to bleed to death.

But apparently the style sheet rules, no matter what.


Bullying and rage

November 20, 2010

Liz Phair, “Stray Cat Blues”, review of Keith Richards’s Life, NYT Book Review 11/14/10:

Keith learned [growing up in Dartford, an industrial suburb of London] what it felt like to be helpless and afraid, serving as a daily punching bag for bullies on his way home from school. By the time he fought back and won, he’d discovered a fury in himself for which he would later become infamous. The plight of the underdog was his passionate crusade, and anything or anyone that represented injustice in his eyes was fair game.

Maybe you’re not accustomed to thinking about the famously dissolute Rolling Stone Keith Richards as having a moral purpose, but there it is.

There’s been plenty of discussion recently about bullying — especially in connection with cases of gay teenagers who committed suicide after being taunted, harrassed, or attacked physically — and what sorts of aggressive behavior constitute bullying. Even beating up another kid might not be seen as bullying in certain circumstances, for instance in hazing and similar initiation rituals, and many people (including people in positions of power, like parents, teachers, coaches, school principals, and the clergy) are inclined to view verbal attacks as “just” teasing, kidding, or name-calling that’s part of childhood life, something that the target should learn to “take” and tough out. And sometimes they’re quick to blame the target, to say that targets “bring it on themselves”.

I was myself verbally harassed as a child, labeled a “sissy”. I wasn’t effeminate, nor (compare the classic “sissy boy” of works like Richard Green’s 1987 book  The “Sissy Boy Syndrome” and the Development of Homosexuality) had I any interest in women’s clothes, makeup, and the like. But I was deeply unathletic, artistic, unaggressive, bookish, good at school, geeky (as we would say today), and friendly with girls as well as guys, so I was gender-deviant, and the label for such boys was sissy. Which was freely applied to me, along with the slurring nickname Arniella.

I had lots of friends, so I coped ok. Then a group of guys decided it would be entertaining to beat the shit out of the sissy and advanced threateningly on me, with one guy in the lead.

From somewhere in me, I pulled out massive red-faced shaking rage and said to this guy, “If you touch me, I’ll do my best to kill you.” He pushed me, and I punched him hard in the face, and barked out “Back off.”

And he did, and the others did too. And they never threatened me physically again (though of course the name-calling went on). They seemed to have figured out that though I was a sissy, I was a dangerous, possibly crazy, sissy, not someone to be messed with.

This is where Keith Richards’s story connects with mine.

Fortunately, no adult witnessed any of this; otherwise, I’d probably have gotten in trouble for fighting (and the other boys would have been counted blameless). I never told my parents, or anyone else, even though my parents were unbelievably supportive of me and made home a safe place for me. (I think now that if my father hadn’t been the great and adaptable dad that he was, I surely wouldn’t have made it to adulthood.)

[Topic for another time: the label sissy and how it gets used, for boys and men and as a label of self-identification. Surprisingly complex business, as I’ve learned recently.]

Then there’s rage, still driving Richards, and still in me, channeled into my gay activism, my willingness to expose my life publicly and accept being treated as a model, and my counseling of lgbt students, trying to make things better for them.

And driving others as well. There’s Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters (website here, Wikipedia page here), in a wonderful “It Gets Better” video (in a project instigated by sex columnist and author Dan Savage in the aftermath of the suicides I mentioned above) here, where he says, in a measured way, “I made a career out of my rage”, admitting that he still has a lot of rage in him.

[The “It Gets Better” videos are a topic for another posting. Check them out; there are hundreds and hundreds.]

Shears tells the story of the worst year of his life, when he was 15 and thought (unwisely, as it turns out) that it would be ok to come out to his friends. And was harassed, bullied, beaten up, and despised. Called into the principal’s office, he was told that “this was happening because I wasn’t keeping my private life private” (heterosexuality is public, homosexuality is private). Now he says, leaning forward earnestly in the video (wearing an in-your-face Tom of Finland t-shirt), that teachers and principals who say things like that belong in jail. That’s as close as he gets to being visibly outraged.

He was failed utterly by those who should have been trying to protect him.

[The private/public distinction is yet another topic for future postings. Here the problem is that, starting with the “gay men and masculinity” project, I’ve amassed such a huge collection of material on the subject — from sociology, anthropology, the legal literature, philosophy, queer studies, and the media — that I scarcely know where to begin.]

Data points: euphemisms 11/20/10

November 20, 2010

Heard on my iTunes, a January 2000 Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! show with a quiz about a law under consideration in the Mississippi state senate (aimed against lap-dancing) barring “the showing of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state”. Much merriment from the panelists at “discernibly turgid” (as a way of getting around a reference to an erection or a hard-on, or in fact to penises).

It turns out that “discernibly turgid” is something of a term of art in law-making about such things. So we find on an Oklahoma site from 2/1/06 a discussion of “state of nudity” in Oklahoma Statute 21-1040 that includes a reference to “depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state”.

And from a Cornell law site, this excerpt from a Supreme Court opinion:

BRENNAN, J., Dissenting Opinion


495 U.S. 103

Osborne v. Ohio


No. 88-5986 Argued: Dec. 5, 1989 — Decided: April 18, 1990

Another section defines “nudity” as

the showing, representation, or depiction of human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks with less than a full, opaque covering, or of a female breast with less than a full opaque covering of any portion thereof [p127] below the top of the nipple, or of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state.

Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2907.01(H) (Supp.1989).