Archive for Language and politics

Pussy and pusillanimous

Email yesterday from P.O.:

Professor Liberman, we need you. You're no doubt aware of Trump's recent comment, quoting a supporter. But now TPM has gone and printed a reader email linking 'pussy' to pusillanimous'.

I had never heard this before, and I'm fairly well-read. I did some google-sleuthing, and found that it has clearly been claimed in the past to be true and is often refuted by people who can't even

Can you help get to the bottom of this?

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Political sound and silence

As part of an exercise/demonstration for a course, last night I ran Neville Ryant's second-best speech activity detector (SAD) on Barack Obama's Weekly Radio Addresses for 2010 (50 of them), and George W. Bush's Weekly Radio Addresses for 2008 (48 of them). The distributions of speech and silence durations, via R's kernel density estimation function, look like this:

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Badly scripted

The main news from last night's Republican debate seems to be the  way that Marco Rubio walked straight into a devastating attack from Chris Christie, whose campaign has recently been focused on attacking Rubio for being "scripted" — see e.g. Charlie Spiering, "Chris Christie Releases Playlist of Marco Rubio’s ‘Scripted’ Responses", Breitbart 2/5/2016. Apparently Mr. Rubio's scriptwriters weren't able to reprogram him in time:

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A new expression in Cantonese

Next Media's Apple Daily (1/23/16) had an article with this headline:

Gǎngdàshēng guà xīn xiàomíng kàng chìhuà


"Hong Kong University students hang [a banner with] the 'new school name' to resist redification"

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Stark rhetoric

Brad DeLong  thinks that the way to understand the appeal of Donald Trump is to see him as a kind of big-city billionaire version of Willie Stark ("Nail 'em up!!!!", 1/21/2016):

Methinks it is time to go reread Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men again… […]

[T]he rise and durability of Donald Trump is a zero/probability event. And, as David Kreps taught me many years ago, rationally-updating one's beliefs in the wake.of a zero-probability event is a… genuinely hard problem. For a zero probability event to happen means that your visualization of the Cosmic All is simply wrong–or it would not strike you as a zero probability event.

However, the herds and hordes of journalists and political scientists are not coming to grips with this. Rather than come to grips with this, they work hard to “save the phenomena” and save their models–analyzing the rise and durability of Donald Trump by making the smallest possible tweaks to what they thought last year. They are not stepping back and absorbing the lesson. They do not want to recognize that the rise and durability of Trump teaches them that what they thought last year was wrong. They do not want to face the reality that they need to pretty much throw everything away and start over.

But if they were willing to throw pretty much everything away and start over, the place to start over is with Robert Penn Warren[.]

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Some linguistic notes on the Taiwan election

Taiwan has just concluded its general elections with some amazing results.

From a long-term resident in Taiwan;

A twenty-five point victory for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the presidential election!

Tsai Ing-wen: 56.1%
Eric Chu (KMT): 31.0%
James Soong (PFP): 12.8%

A huge, emotional crowd in Taipei for Tsai.

A very, very good day for the DPP, which will also control the Legislature for the very first time.

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The country needs healed

In the latest GOP presidential debate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich used a regionalism not often heard in national politics. From the Washington Post transcript:

And as president of the United States, it's all about communication, folks. It's all about getting people to listen to one another's problems. And when you do that, you will be amazed at how much progress you can make, and how much healing we can have. Because, folks, at the end of the day, the country needs healed.

Video from Fox Business (skip to about 2 minutes in):

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Lu Xun and the Zhao family

Lu Xun (1881-1936) is generally regarded as the greatest Chinese writer of the twentieth century.  Despite his tremendous reputation and enormous influence through the 70s and into the 80s, in recent decades Lu Xun had fallen somewhat into disfavor as the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), which transformed itself into what I call the CCCCMMMMPPPP (Chinese Communist Christo-Confucian Marxist Maoist Militant Mercantilist Propagandistic Pugnacious Plutocratic Party), no longer took kindly his radical critique of corrupt, feudalistic society.

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Malheur militia snark

The internet has responded with a wave of snarky hashtags to the self-appointed militia occupying the  visitors' center at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Many are inappropriately anti-rural (#YokelHaram, #YeeHawdists), or irrelevantly anti-southern (#YallQaeda), but in a case like this, snarky stereotype-based ridicule is a better weapon than gun battles, I guess.

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Trump's rhetorical style

It's the season of political speeches, and so I've been listening to a few. One thing that sticks out is Donald Trump's rhetorical style, which has some characteristics that I haven't observed in other politicians. In "Donald Trump's repetitive rhetoric" (12/5/2015) I noted his tendency to repeat words and phrases. This repetition means that many phrases are entirely predictable well before their end, and perhaps for that reason, he often leaves the last bits unspoken. And finally, he has an almost Pirahã-like ability  — or perhaps I should say Elmore Leonard-like ability — to express complex thoughts in paratactic form, with very little clausal embedding.

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Donald Trump rally 12/21/2015, Grand Rapids, Michigan:

l- let me just tell you
I may win, I may not win
that's not a president
that's not- she's not taking us to the-
everything that's been involved in Hillary has been losses you take a look
even her race to Obama
she was going to beat Obama
I don't know who'd be worse
I don't know
how does it get worse?
but she was going to beat- she was favored to win
and she got … schlonged, she lost, I mean she lost

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Correction of the year?

From the article "Trump brushes off widespread backlash" by Paul Koring, The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition), Dec. 9, 2015, p. A13:

And the inevitable correction (The Globe and Mail, Dec. 11, 2015, p. A2):

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Still more on "Daesh"

After Tim Friese's comment at the end of our last post on Daesh, I almost didn't want to think about the word again, much less write about it.  But then I came across this article by Matthew Weaver in The Guardian:

"Syria debate: the linguistic battle over what to call Islamic State.  David Cameron has started calling the group Daesh – a name based on a derogatory Arabic acronym – leading to heated exchanges among MPs" (12/2/15)

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