Category Archive 'Language'
20 Jul 2018

Alcohol

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09 Jun 2018

Dead White Males Named Female Body Parts

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Praxiteles, cast of torso of Aphrodite of Knidos by Ingres, Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris.

And Feminists have a problem with that, reports Leah Kaminsky.

Take a tour of the female pelvis, and you’ll encounter a few incongruous people along the way. How did James Douglas end up tucked behind the uterus? What is Gabriel Fallopian doing hanging around the ovaries? Why is Caspar Bartholin the Younger attached to the labia? And can we trust Ernst Grafenberg’s claim that he actually found the G-spot? Whether you know it or not, each of these dudes have ended up immortalised in the female pelvis – as the Pouch of Douglas, Bartholin’s glands, fallopian tubes, and that elusive Grafenberg spot.

The truth is, men are all over women’s bodies – dead, white male anatomists, that is. Their names live on eponymously, immortalised like audacious explorers for conquering the geography of the female pelvis as if it were terra nullius. …

Gender bias in the teaching of anatomy and physiology to medical students was examined in a 2013 study by Susan Morgan and her colleagues. In textbooks used to instruct students, they found that “male anatomy and physiology are often represented as the norm, with women being underrepresented in non‐reproductive anatomy. The impression is gained that the human body is male and that the female body is presented only to show how it differs.”

If many medical terms embody a patriarchal history, the question is how much it matters today. If most people don’t even realise that the names of female body parts have male origins – so don’t automatically connect them to men, rather than women – is it such a big deal? After all, for a word to bolster a sexist system, you’d think it would need to have some connection to male-oriented meaning in our minds.

One problem, says Lera Boroditsky, associate professor of cognitive science at UCSD, is that eponyms perpetuate the notion that advances are made by one individual – rather than the long collaborative process central to the process of scientific discovery. She argues for a system “that is not centred around the historical victories of men ‘discovering’ body parts”. Instead, these terms should be replaced by descriptors that are useful and educational to the body’s owner.

RTWT

07 Jun 2018

The Lost Jargon of the New York Soda Jerk

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Atlas Obscura:

Soda jerks became known across the country for… esoteric slang. They were often virtuosic wordsmiths, with a gift for puns and riffs. And, at a time when the United States was nuts for all things ice-cream, they were at once “consummate showmen, innovators, and freelance linguists of the drugstore stage,” writes Michael Karl Witzel in The American Drive-In. “America’s soda jerk became the pop culture star of the Gilded Age.” …

In 1936, English professor Harold W. Bentley conducted a full-scale investigation into the cabalistic mumbo-jumbo of these young New Yorkers, publishing his findings in the journal American Speech. They were so semantically inventive, he wrote, that they had become a tourist destination in their own right, skillfully “serving colorfully named concoctions [and] providing an attraction much stronger than stone and concrete piled high. To foreigners in search of local American color, the soda fountains are as good as made to order.” (In fact, soda jerks were slinging lingo all over the country—though many of the terms Bentley described are specific to the Big Apple.)

There was a competitive edge to it too, Bentley explained: “The bright boys behind the marble counters have extended themselves to outdo the other fellow with fantastic, grotesque, or witty labels for the food combinations from the kitchen or the refreshments spouting out of those fascinating faucets which decorate the bar.”

An order of a simple float might yield a shout of “Burn it and let it swim!” A more complex chocolate malted milk with chocolate ice cream: “Burn one all the way.” If you nixed the ice cream and added an egg, your server would “twist it, choke it, and make it cackle.” Coca-Cola flavored with cherry might be “Shoot one in the red,” or the steamier “Make it virtue.” Drinks without ice “held the hail.” Big drinks were “stretched”; small ones were “short.”

The term used in one drugstore might not hold in another. In one soda fountain Bentley visited, an order of “Black and white” meant a chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream. But in another, it signified black coffee with cream—and in yet another, a chocolate malted milk. A simple glass of milk might variously be called “cow juice,” “bovine extract,” or “canned cow,” while water went by everything from “aqua pura” to “city cocktail” to the deeply unappetizing “Hudson River ale.”

Many of these terms were used in only one soda fountain—or two at the most, with terms swapped around and mixed up almost as vigorously as the drinks they described. There was a certain amount of pressure to keep them up-to-date: An order of five small scoops of vanilla ice-cream topped with whipped cream, a maraschino cherry, and crushed fruit had the nickname “The Dionne Surprise,” for the famous Canadian quintuplets born in 1934.

Often, the terms were a cocktail of performance and posturing. They were something for tourists to go out of their way for, and a distraction for Times Square showgirls out for a breather between rehearsals, as they sat on high red upholstered stools and nursed dishes of vanilla ice-cream. There was also something compelling about a kind of indecipherable secret language, where guessable terms (a “Traffic Light Sundae” was three scoops of vanilla, with a cherry of red, white, or green on each) mingled with cryptic ones (anyone for a “Brown Derby”?).

On occasion, the code had a simple, practical purpose. That might be in protecting the privacy of the customer: The name of an order spiked with the laxative magnesium citrate would include Mary Garden “because it makes you sing.” If a customer left without paying, whether by accident or otherwise, it was often easier to shout “95!” than to explain what had happened. “99!” denoted the presence of the big boss or an inspector (soda fountains were notoriously unhygienic and tended not to use soap when washing dishes).

But by the mid-1930s, Bentley observed, the hijinks and fast talk of the soda jerk were already on the wane. Whether or not the audience appreciated it, employers seem to have found the volleying calls of “belch water” and “dog and maggot!” hard to stomach. “Indeed,” he wrote, “the practice is frowned down in many fountains, particularly those owned or operated by large chain organizations or by department stores.”

RTWT

01 Jun 2018

Telling a Realistic Fictional Language From Gibberish

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13 May 2018

A Term You Will Find Useful

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白左 [Baizuo]

16 Apr 2018

Evolution of the Latin Alphabet

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click on image for larger version.

17 Feb 2018

Rongorongo

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A crescent-shaped, wooden neck ornament from Easter Island made some time in the first half of the nineteenth century. The artifact, decorated with two bearded male heads on either end, contains a line of rongorongo glyphs along its bottom edge. British Museum.

Jacob Mikanowski, in Cabinet Magazine, introduces us to the Linear B of the Pacific: rongrongo.

Of all the literatures in the world, the smallest and most enigmatic belongs without question to the people of Easter Island. It is written in a script—rongorongo—that no one can decipher. Experts cannot even agree whether it is an alphabet, a syllabary, a mnemonic, or a rebus. Its entire corpus consists of two dozen texts. The longest, consisting of a few thousand signs, winds its way around a magnificent ceremonial staff. The shortest texts—if they can even be called that—consist of barely more than a single sign. One took the form of a tattoo on a man’s back. Another was carved onto a human skull.

Where did the rongorongo script come from? What do its texts communicate? No one knows for sure. The last Easter Islanders (or Rapanui) familiar with rongorongo died in the nineteenth century. They didn’t live long enough to pass on the secret of their writing system, but they did leave a few tantalizing clues. The island’s spoken language, also called Rapanui, lives on, but today it is written in a Latin script and its relationship to rongorongo is unclear. So far at least, no one has successfully connected one with the other. To this day, rongorongo remains a puzzle, an enigma, and a mirror for the folly of those who try to solve it.

Rongorongo is the only script native to the Pacific. Like so much else, it makes Easter Island unique.

05 Feb 2018

The Power of Words

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“One of my teachers at Columbia was Joseph Brodsky…and he said, ‘look, you Americans, you are so naïve. You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.’”

—- Marie Howe

18 Dec 2017

Harvard Freshman Deciphers Meaning of Inca Knots

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Atlas Obscura:

There are many ways a college student might spend spring break. Making an archaeological breakthrough is not usually one of them. In his first year at Harvard, Manny Medrano did just that.

“There’s something in me, I can’t explain where it came from, but I love the idea of digging around and trying to find secrets hidden from the past,” Medrano says.

With the help of his professor, Gary Urton, a scholar of Pre-Columbian studies, Medrano interpreted a set of six khipus, knotted cords used for record keeping in the Inca Empire. By matching the khipus to a colonial-era Spanish census document, Medrano and Urton uncovered the meaning of the cords in greater detail than ever before. Their findings could contribute to a better understanding of daily life in the Andean civilization.

The Inca Empire reached its height of power in 15th- and 16th-century Peru. When Spanish conquistadors invaded, the Inca had established the largest and most complex society in the Americas. Architectural marvels from the civilization, such as Machu Picchu, survive to this day, but the Inca left behind no written records.

“The only sources we have at present are chronicles of the Inca that were written by the Spaniards,” Urton says. “We know in a lot of cases those histories were skewed by Spanish beliefs and Spanish motivations, and so we don’t really have any indigenous Inca history.”

The only records the Inca are known to have kept are in the form of intricately knotted khipu textiles. In 2002, Urton began Harvard’s Khipu Database Project. He traveled to museums and private collections around the world to record the numbers of knots, lengths of cords, colors of fibers, and other distinguishing details about every Inca khipu he could find—more than 900 in total.

Urton says he and other researchers in the field have always had a general sense of what the khipus represented. Many, they could tell, had to do with census data. Others appeared to be registers of goods or calendar systems. But, until recently, none of the khipus Urton studied could be understood on a very detailed level. If the khipus held messages or cultural information beyond just numbers, the meanings were opaque to modern scholars.

A turning point came when Urton began looking into a set of six khipus from the 17th-century Santa River Valley region of Northwest Peru. One day, Urton picked up a book and happened to spot a Spanish census document from the same region and time period.

“A lot of the numbers that were recorded in that census record matched those six khipus exactly,” Urton says.

It was an exciting enough coincidence that Urton mentioned it to his undergraduate students at the end of class in the spring of 2016. For Medrano, who was sitting in the lecture hall that day, it was too enticing of a lead to ignore.

“I walked up to him and said, ‘hey, spring break is coming up, if you need someone to put a few hours into this, I’d be happy to take a look,’” Medrano recalls. …

The khipus in question are in a private collection in Peru, so Medrano worked from information Urton had recorded in his khipu database. Medrano recalls combing through spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel, graphing some of the data, and enjoying the hunt for patterns.

“I have a love of puzzles, just for entertainment. I love to do a Sudoku on a plane or something, but this is so much more profound,” he says.

Medrano comes from a Mexican-American family and speaks Spanish, so understanding the Spanish census document was no problem. Handling numbers and data came naturally to him as well, as an economics major. The challenge, as both Medrano and Urton note, seemed to demand a perfect alignment of his skills and interests.

“Not every archaeology project operates in Excel,” Medrano points out.

Medrano noticed that the way each cord was tied onto the khipu seemed to correspond to the social status of the 132 people recorded in the census document. The colors of the strings also appeared to be related to the people’s first names. The correlations seemed too strong to be a coincidence. After spring break, Medrano told his professor about his theories.

“I just remember being pretty excited, that, ‘Wow! I think the guy’s got it,’” Urton says. “There were a couple of things that didn’t add up and I’d point that out and he’d take it back and work on it for a week or two and come back and he would have understood something about it at a deeper level.”

Medrano worked with Urton over the next several months and the two compiled their findings into a paper which will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Ethnohistory in January. Medrano is the first author on the paper, indicating he contributed the bulk of the research, something Urton notes is extremely rare for an undergraduate student.

Sabine Hyland researches Andean anthropology at the University of St. Andrews. She has read Medrano and Urton’s forthcoming paper and describes their discoveries as “thrilling.”

“Manny has proven that the way in which pendant cords are tied to the top cord indicates which social group an individual belonged to. This is the first time anyone has shown that and it’s a big deal,” Hyland says.

Urton is now optimistic that the six khipus examined in the research could serve as a key to decode the hundreds of others he has in his database. The colors of the cords as they relate to first names could hint at the meanings of colors in other khipus, for example.

“There’s a lot we can draw on from this one case,” Urton says.

RTWT

26 Oct 2017

British Government: “Men Get Pregnant, Too”

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Daily Signal:

The phrase “pregnant woman” needs to be more inclusive and termed “pregnant people” in a U.N. treaty, the British government announced on Monday.

The British government’s suggestion on proposed amendments to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights claims the wording excludes pregnant transgender people. The treaty says “pregnant women” are protected and not subject to the death penalty, reported The Times.

The current terminology excludes transgender people who have given birth, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office claims.

“We requested that the U.N. Human Rights Committee made it clear that the same right extends to pregnant transgender people,” Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials told The Times.

There are two transgender men on record in the U.K. who have given birth after having a sex change. The biological women kept their womb and ovaries during the change, according to the Sunday report.

Some feminists are not happy about the terminology.

30 Jul 2017

Pie Chart of World’s Most Spoken Languages

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11 Jul 2017

More Linguistic Purging at Yale

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As Freshmen first we came to Yale,
Fol de rol de rol rol rol!
Examinations made us pale.
Fol de rol de rol rol rol!

Chorus:
Eli Eli Eli Yale,
Fol de rol de rol rol rol!
Eli Eli Eli Yale,
Fol de rol de rol rol rol!

A lot of Yale alumni look forward to the bimonthly arrival of the Alumni Magazine with roughly the same enthusiasm with which we look forward to our next dental procedure.

There is always the triumphant announcement of Peter Salovey’s invertebrate administration’s latest surrender to leftist insanity; accompanied by all the usual gloating over this, that, and the other cases of recent worldly success by this Yale graduate or that one; the advertising columns offering vacation rentals in Tuscany or Provence for thousands a week; and the Class Notes (at my age typically telling you who died).

The Yale Administration is cowardly and conformist, and has no enemies to the Left, but there is still usually in evidence the Yale tradition of competence, particularly in formal areas involving language. Yale’s English Department was always traditionally the best in the country.

So, it is even more depressing than usual to learn that the Administration is caving to feminist crackpots and eliminating the word “Freshman.” It was not very long ago that every educated person recognized that “man” was in the English language a generic plural for all of mankind, male and female, with no particular offense intended to females, children, hermaphrodites, or the family dog.

It was not very long ago that some belligerent female trying to make an issue out of this particular feature of ordinary language would simply have been dismissed universally as a nuisance and a crank.

All this has changed recently with respect to the very center of the American Establishment. Today, no preposterous complaint, no demand for grotesque change, no utter and complete absurdity emanating from the ranks of society’s demoniacs will not be rapidly complied with.

I was marveling over all this, and asking myself how and why this came about, and the best answer I am able to come up with is to echo Bill Deresiewicz’s 2008 Essay, which argues that what our most elite schools have evolved into is engines of production of “really excellent sheep.

The radicals are the wolves and Peter Salovey, the rest of the Administration, and the Yale Corporation are all the very best little girls and boys, all with their medals for deportment clinking away, all of them too nice and too tame, domesticated, and civilized to stand up to an adversary prepared to use Alinskyite tactics.

Yale men of yore, the kind of Yalies who won their place on the Fence as Freshmen by physically ejecting the Sophomore Class, the kind of Yalies who used to go out to Dragon led by the Class Bully, wielding his badge of office bully club, to fight with sailors, are extinct. The American elite of today is made up of Deresiewicz’s “really excellent sheep,” i.e. utterly conformist tools, competent at the job but always with a keen eye fixed completely on the main chance, the kind of people ready to eat any toad required to get ahead.

All you can say is: A country gets the kind of elite that it deserves and God help the country that deserves this elite.

The alumni mag:

Strictly speaking, the term “freshman” became obsolete at Yale in 1969, when women were first admitted as undergraduates. But language moves a little more slowly than reality, so the Yale College Dean’s Office only recently resolved to use the gender-neutral “first-year” in official materials. “This has been talked about for years,” says Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarribar. “We’ve been asked about it by students and parents, and it’s become more and more clear that what you call things does matter.” The new terminology will start appearing in Yale publications this fall, but Lizarribar expects that in conversation the two terms will coexist for a while. (“Nobody’s going to say, ‘Oh my god, you used the wrong word!’”) Freshman counselors will be known this fall as first-year counselors, but Lizarribar says the informal portmanteau “fro-co” isn’t going anywhere. As for other time-honored phrases of undergrad tradition, we have a feeling it will be case by case.

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