Archive for the ‘Language in politics’ Category

In the West Wing

March 8, 2017

Having fallen into the world of American politics in viewing the documentary I Am the Ambassador (about Rufus Gifford, until recently the US ambassador to Denmark), I went on to doing the whole 7-year run of the tv series The West Wing, which I am urging everyone to watch at least some of — as a canny depiction of American political life (Wikipedia tells us that it “received acclaim from critics, as well as praise from political science professors and former White House staffers”), as a gripping drama with an earnest moral core, and as a show worthy of praise for its snappy dialogue, inspired casting, and first-rate acting.

This posting is about just two of the actors, Mark Feuerstein and Jimmy Smits (both prominent in season 6 of the series, which I’ve just finished watching), solid members of what I’ve called the “acting corps“, the bank of accomplished and reliable actors (short of first-magnitude star rank) that make the stage, the movies, and television hum for our pleasure and enlightenment. I find them both attractive, as men and as actors — in particular, as embodiments of an “acting persona” (a more or less enduring persona that cuts across an actor’s roles).

Through Smits, that exploration will take us to another member of the acting corps, the admirable Marg Helgenberger. (I know, I know, you also want me to write about Allison Janney and Stockard Channing, among others, but there’s only so much I can do in one posting.)

(more…)

stans

March 1, 2017

One more item from my blog backlog, this one starting with a January 2nd op-ed column in the NYT by Paul Krugman, “America Becomes a Stan”, which began:

In 2015 the city of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, was graced with a new public monument: a giant gold-plated sculpture portraying the country’s president on horseback. This may strike you as a bit excessive. But cults of personality are actually the norm in the “stans,” the Central Asian countries that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union, all of which are ruled by strongmen who surround themselves with tiny cliques of wealthy crony capitalists.

Americans used to find the antics of these regimes, with their tinpot dictators, funny. But who’s laughing now?

We are, after all, about to [remember that this was published on January 2nd] hand over power to a man who has spent his whole adult life trying to build a cult of personality around himself; remember, his “charitable” foundation spent a lot of money buying a six-foot portrait of its founder. Meanwhile, one look at his Twitter account is enough to show that victory has done nothing to slake his thirst for ego gratification. So we can expect lots of self-aggrandizement once he’s in office. I don’t think it will go as far as gold-plated statues, but really, who knows?

I don’t mean to slight the social and political message here — that our country risks becoming a gold-plated failed-state autocracy — but this posting is mostly about the linguistic point, the appearance of the independent word stan, extracted from English names of regions and political entities with the libfix -(i/y)stan, originally an element in such names in other languages but now available for forming new names in English.

(more…)

… And the American Way

March 1, 2017

A recent pointed superhero cartoon by Mike McCain (hat tip to Tim Evanson):

(#1)

(more…)

Zippy goes out to catch a bite

October 15, 2016

… in two recent strips, first at Dippin’ Donuts and then at the Sugar Shack. Looks like sweet tooth days for our Pinhead. Both strips are strewed with allusions of all kinds, of course.

(#1)

(#2)

(more…)

Flagging Marcomentum

March 13, 2016

This was just a week ago, which can be a long time in political life. In the NYT Magazine on March 6th, on p. 15, in the piece “Inside Out” by Mark Leibovich:

I was traveling with [Marco] Rubio in Nevada on the eve of that state’s Republican caucuses last month… Rubio seemed almost giddy about the “Marcomentum” he was feeling.

A political portmanteau, coined in a giddy hopeful moment. Rubio has now fallen to third in the Republican primary field and has been written off by many commentators, even as his home state Florida’s primary comes on Tuesday — the 15th, also the Ides of March, which is possibly ominous (Marco Julio, knifed by the Brute Cruz?).

I had vowed no more U.S. primary season postings, but Rubio’s portmanteau Marcomentum got to me. Forgive me.

A Ben Carson note

November 12, 2015

As the presidential primary season rolls on, we discover that Ben Carson’s accounts of his life history seem to have a certain amount of embroidery in them. Meanwhile, Carson continues to espouse some very odd beliefs. Here’s one that NYT columnist Gail Collins greeted with amazement back on September 10th, in “A Presidential Primary Cheat Sheet”:

Ben Carson has been surging! It’s easy to understand his popularity. He has a compelling life story about raising himself up from poverty to become a brain surgeon, and he was the least needy-looking candidate in the first Republican debate. On the other side, it is kind of unnerving that he doesn’t believe in evolution. Most Republican candidates try to fudge that one, by changing the subject or saying something like “I am not a scientist.” But Carson really doesn’t believe in evolution. And he is, you know, a scientist.

Well no, there are medical scientists, but Carson isn’t one; he’s a clinician, who provides practical treatments for people’s conditions — using what is known by (medical) science, granted, but not advancing our basic knowledge about how the body works. Skilled clinicians perform wonderful things, but they’re not scientists.

Still, it’s bizarre, in fact distressing, for a clinician to deny basic findings of science, like evolution.

(more…)

Trump’s incoherence?

August 6, 2015

Over on Language Log, Geoff Pullum has posted, under the heading “Trump’s aphasia”,  about a Donald Trump speech:

The following word-stream (it cannot be called a sentence) was uttered by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump on July 21 in Sun City, South Carolina. As far as I can detect it has no structure at all: the numerous conditional adjuncts never arrive at consequents, we never encounter a main verb or even an approximation to a claim. The topic seems to be related to nuclear engineering, Trump’s uncle, the Wharton School, Trump’s intelligence, politics, prisoners, women’s intelligence, and Iran. But it’s hard to be sure

In a follow-up, “Trump’s eloquence”, Mark Liberman offered explanations for Trump’s apparent incoherence. By that point, I had realized what sounded so familiar in Trump’s speech: it sounded an awful lot like what psychiatrists refer to as “the flight of ideas”, sometimes associated (somewhat inaccurately) with schizophrenia, but more characteristic of bipolar disorder.

(more…)

Political cartoons

April 21, 2015

Three more cartoons from the May issue of Funny Times, cartoons that are in some way “political”: from Ted Rall, Tom Tomorrow, and Ruben Bolling:

(#1)

(#2)

(#3)

(more…)

Verbing the bumpkin

November 4, 2014

From the NYT Magazine on Sunday the 2nd, a piece, “The Bumpkinification of the Midterm Election” by Mark Leibovich, in which bumpkin ‘an awkward fellow, a clown’ is verbed, by -ify in the title, by -ize in the body of the piece, and by zero conversion (or direct verbing) as well. The piece is also intriguing for its reporting on the rhetoric of politics.

(more…)

The experts speak

October 25, 2014

Science writer Carl Zimmer in the NYT yesterday, in the middle of “As Ebola Spreads, So Have Several Fallacies”:

Recently on “Fox News Sunday,” the political commentator George F. Will said, “There are now doctors who are saying, ‘We’re not so sure that it can’t be in some instances transmitted by airborne.’ ”

When another guest on the show started to explain that experts have said this is not true, Mr. Will interrupted to say, “Every expert that you’ve seen. Here we go again.”

A familiar rhetorical move, in which “experts” (or “authorities” or “scientists”) are disparaged as sources of information, on the grounds that they are just one source of information among many, and that all these sources are just matters of opinion, each as valid as any other (for instance, the opinions of political commentators).

Frequently, these disparagements are backed up by the claim that “experts”, “authorities”, and “scientists” are in fact biased sources of information, because these people have a personal stake in the matter: their reputations, positions, income, and so on hinge on what they do. (I recall the days of the wars over smoking, when representatives of the tobacco industry attacked the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association in just these terms, as “special interests”.)

I’m familiar with the disparagement of “experts” etc. (especially linguists and lexicographers) in discussions of usage, where it’s vexing that so many people assume that all opinions on usage are equally valid, and that the work of professionals should in fact be dismissed because it’s biased. In many contexts, not a lot hinges on the outcomes of these confrontations, though many of us have pointed out that the rejection of expert information about language can have grave consequences in some contexts, especially in education.

But when we’re dealing with matters of life and death (as in responses to Ebola), the stakes are immediately and urgently higher. I won’t try to assess George Will’s motives here, but he is disparaging statements of fact (as far as this is known) in favor of fallacious rumors, and that, I think, is just wicked. (Don’t get me started on Bobby Jindal.)