Amen comes from Old English, via ecclesiastical Latin, via Greek amēn, from Hebrew ‘āmēn ‘truth, certainty’, and is used adverbially as an expression of agreement. It adopted in the Septuagint as a solemn expression of belief or affirmation.
Recently, I saw a conversation between a few women I follow on Twitter about Fiona Apple, who was profiled by Vulture last month. In the course of her interview, Apple mentions that sheâ€™s stopped drinking, but has started smoking more weed instead: â€œAlcohol helped me for a while, but I donâ€™t drink anymore,â€ she says. â€œNow itâ€™s just pot, pot, pot.â€ This was the part of the interview the women were discussing. â€œFiona Apple: Cali sober??â€ one wrote.
The term â€œCali soberâ€ here refers to people who donâ€™t drink but do smoke weed, though internet definitions vary slightly: Urban Dictionary says it means people who drink and smoke weed but donâ€™t do other drugs; an essay by journalist Michelle Lhooq uses it to refer to her decision to smoke weed and do psychedelics, but not drink. While the term is new to me, the behavior it describes is not. …
[There was] excitement generated a few months ago by the announcement that “Tocharian C,” the native language of Kroraina (Chinese Loulan) had been discovered, hiding, as it were, in certain documents written in the Kharoá¹£á¹hÄ« script (“Tocharian C: its discovery and implications” [4/2/19]). Those documents, with transcription, grammatical sketch, and glossary, were published earlier this year as a part of Klaus T. Schmidt’s Nachlass (Stefan Zimmer, editor, Hampen in Bremen, publisher). However, on the weekend of September 15th and 16th a group of distinguished Tocharianists (led by Georges Pinault and MichaÃ«l Peyrot), accompanied by at least one specialist in Central Asian Iranian languages, languages normally written in Kharoá¹£á¹hÄ«, met in Leiden to examine the texts and Schmidt’s transcriptions. The result is disappointing, saddening even. In Peyrot’s words, “not one word is transcribed correctly.” We await a full report of the “Leiden Group” with a more accurate transcription and linguistic commentary (for instance, is this an already known Iranian or Indic language, or do the texts represent more than one language, one of which might be a Tocharian language?). Producing such a report is a tall order and we may not have it for some little time. But, at the very least, Schmidt’s “Tocharian C,” as it stands, has been removed from the plane of real languages and moved to some linguistic parallel universe.
So, what do we have in Schmidt’s “Tocharian C”? I can think of three scenarios, perhaps there are more. First, Schmidt may have subconsciously read into his texts what he wanted to be there. There have certainly been such things happening (the well-known first “transcription” of the Voynich Manuscript by William Romaine Newbold* is such a case). Secondly, and less generously, it may have been an outright fabrication, an attempt at deception. But, what would have been the purpose? Thirdly, and more generously, it might have been a kind of “Tocharian Sindarin”â€”a created language such as Tolkien played so artistically with, given a certain literary verisimilitude by the reference to old manuscripts where it might be found. If so, it was not meant to deceive, but his family, not having been told of its true nature, passed it on to Zimmer as real. And Zimmer, not being a reader of the Kharoá¹£á¹hÄ« script (precious few Tocharianists are), naturally enough took Schmidt’s transcriptions at face value.
In English, we say, â€œItâ€™s raining cats and dogs.â€ Explanations for why we say this are numerous, and all fairly dubious. In other lands, other stuff falls from the sky during heavy storms. In Croatia, axes; in Bosnia, crowbars (Iâ€™m sensing a pattern here); in France and Sweden, nails. In several countries, heavy rain falls like pestle onto mortar. In English, it may also rain like pitchforks or darning needles. While idioms describing heavy rain as the piss from some great creature (a cow or a god) may not be surprising, a few idioms kick it up a notch (so to speak), describing the rain as falling dung.
And then there are the old ladies falling out of skies. Sometimes with sticks, sometimes without. Sometimes old ladies beaten with ugly sticks. The Flemish say, het regent oude wijven â€” itâ€™s raining old women. The Afrikaners, more savagely, arm the old women with clubs: ou vrouens met knopkieries reÃ«n. Yes, good olâ€™ knobkerries â€” ugly sticks, indeed! Afrikaners and the Flemish speak variants of Dutch, so itâ€™s not surprising they share cataracts of crones, armed or not. Why the Welsh also share them is more of a mystery, but ynâ€™ Gymraeg, again we find old ladies raining with sticks: mae hiâ€™n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn. Traveling to Norway, we find the outpouring of old ladies beaten with the ugly sticks: det regner trollkjerringer â€” itâ€™s raining she-trolls.
I think the above illustration would have been better with literal female trolls.
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre on the Apple Park campus on September 12, 2017 in Cupertino, California.
Amusingly, leftist English prof John Patrick Leary, writing in Jacobin, sounds a lot like Edmund Burke or Pope Pius X when he’s denouncing popular contemporary cant about “innovation.”
For most of its early life, the word â€œinnovationâ€ was a pejorative, used to denounce false prophets and political dissidents. Thomas Hobbes used innovator in the seventeenth century as a synonym for a vain conspirator; Edmund Burke decried the innovators of revolutionary Paris as wreckers and miscreants; in 1837, a Catholic priest in Vermont devoted 320 pages to denouncing â€œthe Innovator,â€ an archetypal heretic he summarized as an â€œinfidel and a sceptick at heart.â€ The innovatorâ€™s skepticism was a destructive conspiracy against the established order, whether in heaven or on Earth. And if the innovator styled himself a seer, he was a false prophet.
By the turn of the last century, though, the practice of innovation had begun to shed these associations with plotting and heresy. A milestone may have been achieved around 1914, when Vernon Castle, Americaâ€™s foremost dance instructor, invented a â€œdecent,â€ simplified American version of the Argentine tango and named it â€œthe Innovation.â€
â€œWe are now in a state of transmission to more beautiful dancing,â€ said Mamie Fish, the famed New York socialite credited with naming the dance. She told the Omaha Bee in 1914 that â€œthis latest is a remarkably pretty dance, lacking in all the eccentricities and abandon of the â€˜tango,â€™ and it is not at all difficult to do.â€ No longer a deviant sin, innovation â€” and â€œThe Innovationâ€ â€” had become positively decent.
The contemporary ubiquity of innovation is an example of how the world of business, despite its claims of rationality and empirical precision, also summons its own enigmatic mythologies. Many of the words covered in my new book, Keywords, orbit this one, deriving their own authority from their connection to the power of innovation.
The value of innovation is so widespread and so seemingly self-evident that questioning it might seem bizarre â€” like criticizing beauty, science, or penicillin, things that are, like innovation, treated as either abstract human values or socially useful things we can scarcely imagine doing without. And certainly, many things called innovations are, in fact, innovative in the strict sense: original processes or products that satisfy some human need.
A scholar can uncover archival evidence that transforms how we understand the meaning of a historical event; an automotive engineer can develop new industrial processes to make a car lighter; a corporate executive can extract additional value from his employees by automating production. These are all new ways of doing something, but they are very different somethings. Some require a combination of dogged persistence and interpretive imagination; others make use of mathematical and technical expertise; others, organizational vision and practical ruthlessness.
But innovation as it is used most often today comes with an implied sense of benevolence; we rarely talk of innovative credit-default swaps or innovative chemical weapons, but innovations they plainly are. The destructive skepticism of the false-prophet innovator has been redeemed as the profit-making insight of the technological visionary.
Innovation is most popular today as a stand-alone concept, a kind of managerial spirit that permeates nearly every institutional setting, from nonprofits and newspapers to schools and childrenâ€™s toys. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines innovation as â€œthe alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms.â€ The earliest example the dictionary gives dates from the mid-sixteenth century; the adjectival â€œinnovative,â€ meanwhile, was virtually unknown before the 1960s, but has exploded in popularity since.
The verb â€œto innovateâ€ has also seen a resurgence in recent years. The verbâ€™s intransitive meaning is â€œto bring in or introduce novelties; to make changes in something established; to introduce innovations.â€ Its earlier transitive meaning, â€œTo change (a thing) into something new; to alter; to renewâ€ is considered obsolete by the OED, but this meaning has seen something of a revival. This was the active meaning associated with conspirators and heretics, who were innovating the word of God or innovating government, in the sense of undermining or overthrowing each.
The major conflict in innovationâ€™s history is that between its formerly prohibited, religious connotation and the salutary, practical meaning that predominates now. BenoÃ®t Godin has shown that innovation was recuperated as a secular concept in the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth, when it became a form of worldly praxis rather than theological reflection. Its grammar evolved along with this meaning. Instead of a discrete irruption in an established order, innovation as a mass noun became a visionary faculty that individuals could nurture and develop in practical ways in the world; it was also the process of applying this faculty (e.g., â€œLenovoâ€™s pursuit of innovationâ€).
Adam Schembri, a professor at the University of Birmingham, makes the case for the weirdness of English.
English probably sounds a little â€œweirdâ€ to many speakers of other languages. According to the WALS, the average number of distinctive speech sounds in the worldâ€™s languages is about 25-30 â€“ known as â€œphonemesâ€. …
English has more phonemes than many languages, with around 44, depending on which variety of English you speak. It has an unusually large set of vowel sounds â€“ there are around 11.
According to WALS, most spoken languages only have between five to six vowel sounds. This is part of the reason that English spelling is fiendishly complicated, because it has inherited five letters for vowels from the Roman alphabet and speakers have to make them work for more than twice that number of sounds.
English has some comparatively unusual consonant sounds as well. Two sounds, those represented by the â€œthâ€ in â€œbathâ€ and â€œbatheâ€ respectively, are found in fewer than 10% of the languages surveyed in WALS. In fact, these two sounds are generally among the last sounds acquired by children, with some adult varieties of English not using them at all.
English grammar is also â€œweirdâ€. English uses varying word orders to distinguish between questions and statements â€“ meaning that the subject of the sentence precedes the verb in statements. Take the phrase â€œlife is a box of chocolatesâ€ for example. Here, the order is subject (â€œlifeâ€) followed by the verb (â€œisâ€). In the question, â€œis life a box of chocolates?â€, the order of these elements is reversed.
In a WALS survey of 955 languages, fewer than 2% of languages in the sample used English-like differences in sentence structure for questions.
Take a tour of the female pelvis, and youâ€™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 Grafenbergâ€™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 â€“ as the Pouch of Douglas, Bartholinâ€™s glands, fallopian tubes, and that elusive Grafenberg spot.
The truth is, men are all over womenâ€™s bodies â€“ 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 â€œmale anatomy and physiology are often represented as the norm, with women being underrepresented in nonâ€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.â€
If many medical terms embody a patriarchal history, the question is how much it matters today. If most people donâ€™t even realise that the names of female body parts have male origins â€“ so donâ€™t automatically connect them to men, rather than women â€“ 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 â€“ rather than the long collaborative process central to the process of scientific discovery. She argues for a system â€œthat is not centred around the historical victories of men â€˜discoveringâ€™ body partsâ€. Instead, these terms should be replaced by descriptors that are useful and educational to the bodyâ€™s owner.
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 â€œconsummate showmen, innovators, and freelance linguists of the drugstore stage,â€ writes Michael Karl Witzel in The American Drive-In. â€œAmericaâ€™s soda jerk became the pop culture star of the Gilded Age.â€ …
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 â€œserving 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.â€ (In fact, soda jerks were slinging lingo all over the countryâ€”though many of the terms Bentley described are specific to the Big Apple.)
There was a competitive edge to it too, Bentley explained: â€œThe 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.â€
An order of a simple float might yield a shout of â€œBurn it and let it swim!â€ A more complex chocolate malted milk with chocolate ice cream: â€œBurn one all the way.â€ If you nixed the ice cream and added an egg, your server would â€œtwist it, choke it, and make it cackle.â€ Coca-Cola flavored with cherry might be â€œShoot one in the red,â€ or the steamier â€œMake it virtue.â€ Drinks without ice â€œheld the hail.â€ Big drinks were â€œstretchedâ€; small ones were â€œshort.â€
The term used in one drugstore might not hold in another. In one soda fountain Bentley visited, an order of â€œBlack and whiteâ€ meant a chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream. But in another, it signified black coffee with creamâ€”and in yet another, a chocolate malted milk. A simple glass of milk might variously be called â€œcow juice,â€ â€œbovine extract,â€ or â€œcanned cow,â€ while water went by everything from â€œaqua puraâ€ to â€œcity cocktailâ€ to the deeply unappetizing â€œHudson River ale.â€
Many of these terms were used in only one soda fountainâ€”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 â€œThe Dionne Surprise,â€ 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 â€œTraffic Light Sundaeâ€ was three scoops of vanilla, with a cherry of red, white, or green on each) mingled with cryptic ones (anyone for a â€œBrown Derbyâ€?).
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 â€œbecause it makes you sing.â€ If a customer left without paying, whether by accident or otherwise, it was often easier to shout â€œ95!â€ than to explain what had happened. â€œ99!â€ 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 â€œbelch waterâ€ and â€œdog and maggot!â€ hard to stomach. â€œIndeed,â€ he wrote, â€œthe practice is frowned down in many fountains, particularly those owned or operated by large chain organizations or by department stores.â€