Archive for Language and politics

The linguistics of a political slogan

Banner on the side of a fancy car in Sydney, Australia:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

"Nephew-nazi"

When the White House issued a statement that finally condemned white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville this weekend, the version that was originally released had an unusual typo: "nephew-nazi" for "neo-Nazi":

The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, nephew-nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.

Brian Stelter noted the typo on CNN.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (16)

"North Korea best not…"

Donald Trump's "fire and fury" warning to North Korea, we now know, was unscripted, not the product of speechwriters and advisers. As some have suggested, Trump's aggressive language may have been (at least unconsciously) modeled on Harry Truman's announcement that the U.S. had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945.

Truman: If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.
Trump: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

Beyond the echo of Truman, Trump is particularly fond of the hyperbolic construction, "like the world has never seen," and variations on that theme. In the Toronto Star, Daniel Dale details Trump's past use of the phrase and wonders if "the president bumbled into the threat because he did not understand the ramifications of a favourite phrase he had in his head." (See also Mark Liberman's post from last year, "This is the likes of which I didn't expect.")

But what about the opening of the threat, "North Korea best not…"? Ben Yagoda said on Twitter that it "sounds like something from a bad Western." John Kelly thought it sounded more Southern. I was reminded of a famous line from the character Omar Little on the HBO series The Wire: "You come at the king, you best not miss."


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)

FIST or FISK?

Tom Porter, "New York Times cross word: NRA spokeswoman denies bizarre threat to 'fist' the publication", Newsweek 8/5/2017:

A National Rifle Association spokeswoman in a bizarre dispute denied that she threatened to "fist" the New York Times in a video atacking [sic] the publication.

In a video released Thursday entitled “Dana Loesch: We’re Coming For You New York Times,” former conservative radio host Loesch staring straight to camera accuses the publication of spreading "fake news," and promoting  “constant protection of your democrat overlords.”

However one section containing an unclear short f-word prompted debate on Twitter. 

“We’re going to [unclear] the New York Times and find out just what deep rich means to this old gray hag, this untrustworthy dishonest rag that has subsisted on the welfare of mediocrity for one two three more decades,” Loesch said. “We’re going to laser focus on your so-called honest pursuit of truth. In short we’re coming for you.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Banned by Beijing

Just saw this great post by the editors of supchina:

"Here are all the words Chinese state media has banned:  A full translation of the style guide update from Xinhua, and why it matters." (8/1/17)

We can be grateful to the editors for their reliable translations, complete with Chinese characters and Hanyu Pinyin romanizations, with word spacing and tonal diacritics.

The list is divided into sections on "Politics and society" (including politically incorrect and vulgar terms), "Law", "Religion and society", "Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, territory, and sovereignty", and "International relations".  Specialists in all of these areas will have a field day examining these sensitive terms and analyzing their political, social, and cultural implications.  I encourage everyone who has an interest in contemporary China to avail themselves of this extraordinary opportunity to get inside the most fundamental level of the censorial apparatus of the Communist Chinese state.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Uyghur language outlawed in schools of the Uyghur Autonomous Region

I could scarcely believe my eyes when I saw the Radio Free Asia headline:

"China Bans Uyghur Language in Xinjiang Schools" (7/28/17)

Some excerpts from the article:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (61)

"Paranoiac"

Heather Murphy ("Scaramucci Did Not Invent the Word 'Paranoiac'", NYT 7/28/2017) quotes some tweets in which paranoiac "faced charges of being not being real" [sic], and comes to its defense with a link to a very interesting paper about a use of the word (but in Russian!) in 1927 — J. Kesselring, "Vladimir Mikhailovic Bekhterev (1857–1927): Strange Circumstances Surrounding the Death of the Great Russian Neurologist", European Neurology 2011.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Comrades, "hike up your skirts for a hard shag"

President Xi Jinping is fond of calling on the Chinese people to "roll up our sleeves and work hard" ( qǐ xiùzǐ jiāyóu gàn 撸起袖子加油干 / 擼起袖子加油幹).  No sooner had Xi uttered this stirring pronouncement in a nationwide address at the turn of the year (2016-17) than it became a viral meme (here and here) that has inspired countless signs, songs, and dances; enactment; and also this one, presumably in a poorly-heated environment

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

Unmasking Slurs

I'm sympathetic to many of the arguments offered in a guest post by Robert Henderson, Peter Klecha, and Eric McCready (HK&M) in response to Geoff Pullum's post on "nigger in the woodpile," no doubt because they are sympathetic to some of the things I said in my reply to Geoff. But I have to object when they scold me for spelling out the word nigger rather than rendering it as n****r. It seems to me that "masking" the letters of slurs with devices such as this is an unwise practice—it reflects a misunderstanding of the taboos surrounding these words, it impedes serious discussion of their features, and most important, it inadvertently creates an impression that works to the advantage of certain racist ideologies. I have to add that it strikes me that HK&M's arguments, like a good part of the linguistic and philosophical literature on slurs, suffer from a certain narrowness of focus, a neglect both of the facts of actual usage of these words and the complicated discourses that they evoke. So, are you sitting comfortably?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (78)

Incrimination by presupposition? The Goldstone e-mail

Paul Kay offered the following item for discussion around the water cooler at Language Log central:

Here's an excerpt from the initial email from Rob Goldstone to Donald Trump, Jr.:

​"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its  government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin."​

Is it worth noting the use of the possessive determiner​? I guess it's generally accepted that possessive determiners involve  some kind of existence presupposition, though I'm aware that there's a lot more to that subject than I know. In the current instance, the presupposition would be that there is in fact Russian government support for Trump. …

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (39)

North America on the Belt and Road?

I've spent the past couple of days at the "Belt and Road Forum for Language Resources", organized by the "Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Language Resources". There are other recently-founded Beijing Advanced Innovation Centers for "Future Education", "Genomics", "Soft Matter Science and Engineering", "Intelligent Robots and Systems", "Big Data and Brain Computing", "Future Visual Entertainment", and no doubt many others.

As for the "Belt and Road Forum" part, this is part of the "Belt and Road Initiative" (discussion e.g. here), which Christine Lagarde said "is about connecting cultures, communities, economies, and people, and about adding new economic flavors by creating infrastructure projects that are based on 21st-century expertise and governance standards". The "Belt" seems to be a set of land-based transportation projects, while the "Road" is the "Maritime Silkroad", all centered on China as illustrated here:

One thing that puzzled me about this workshop was its thematic image of an artistically pixelated globe  centered over the North Atlantic, roughly at the latitude of Philadelphia.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)

The N-word Yet Again

The following is a guest post by Tony Thorne of King's College London, originally appearing on his blog. It provides an alternative view to that expressed by Geoff Pullum in his post, "Tory uses N-word… not."


On July 10 Samir Dathi tweeted: "Anne Marie Morris suspended for using N-word. Good. But why is someone who called black people 'picaninnies' our foreign secretary?"

Morris, the Conservative MP for Newton Abbot's use of the phrase 'nigger in the woodpile' provoked widespread condemnation and resulted in her suspension and an abject public apology, but the UK public and media have a very short memory. It was far from an isolated instance of this crass archaism being invoked by British politicians, as this website records.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (59)

Tory uses N-word… not

"Tory MP suspended for racist remark" says the Financial Times headline, just two hours ago as I write this. A Conservative member of parliament suspended from the party within hours after being recorded making a racist remark in a public meeting! A remark involving "the N-word", too! As an anti-racist with no love for the Tories, I was eager to find out the details of this latest embarrassment. But in seconds after I turned to the first newspaper account I realized I was in for a disappointment. It turns out to be fake news. Anne Marie Morris, the very successful Conservative MP for Newton Abbot in the southwestern county of Devon, did not call anyone a nigger.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off