Archive for Language and politics

Kirsten Gillibrand's Mandarin

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Baffling propaganda: "black" and "evil" in contemporary Chinese society

Mandy Chan saw this sign on Weibo (a major Chinese microblogging website) and challenged me to translate it:

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The term "virtue signaling" as virtue signaling

Jillian Jordan and David Rand, "Are You ‘Virtue Signaling’? Probably. But that doesn’t mean your outrage is inauthentic", NYT 3/30/2019:

Expressions of moral outrage are playing a prominent role in contemporary debates about issues like sexual assault, immigration and police brutality. In response, there have been criticisms of expressions of outrage as mere “virtue signaling” — feigned righteousness intended to make the speaker appear superior by condemning others.

Clearly, feigned righteousness exists. We can all think of cases where people simulated or exaggerated feelings of outrage because they had a strategic reason to do so. Politicians on the campaign trail, for example, are frequent offenders.

So it may seem reasonable to ask, whenever someone is expressing indignation, “Is she genuinely outraged or just virtue signaling?” But in many cases this question is misguided, for the answer is often “both.”

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Playing a small abacus

A learned colleague observed:

A few days ago, a Chinese military spokesperson was criticizing U.S. Department of Defense budget priorities.  The spokesperson said, "We have noticed that the U.S. defense department always likes to play 'small abacus' when seeking military budgets, in an attempt to gain more benefits for itself by rendering the threat of other countries [sic]."

From and Xinhua.

The colleague went on to ask:

That must have sounded better in Chinese.  What did he mean by that?  Does it refer to lowballing budgets?  Is it like "penny-wise-pound-foolish?"

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A black cat in a dark room

"The Chinese proverb that Russia cited to respond to the Mueller report does not appear to be a Chinese proverb", by Adam Taylor, Washington Post (3/25/19)

In a briefing with reporters, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov quoted "the words of a Chinese philosopher who said ‘it is very hard to find a black cat in a dark room especially if it is not there.' ”

Fake Oriental wisdom is the bane of Sinologists.  We spend a lot of time putting out false fires that flare up all over the place.

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The politics of "Maria" in Taiwan

During the last few days, there has been a huge furor over this sentence spoken publicly by the Mayor of Kaohsiung City, Han Kuo-yu (Daniel Han):

"Mǎlìyà yīxiàzi zuò wǒmen Yīngwén lǎoshī 瑪莉亞一下子做我們英文老師" ("Maria suddenly becomes our English teacher")

Newspaper articles describing the incident, which is now being referred to as the "'Mǎlìyà' shìjiàn「瑪麗亞」事件" ("'Maria' Affair"), may be found here (in Chinese, with video clip) and here (in English).

Mayor Han is notorious for his errant, flippant manner of speaking, but this instance — which he later claimed was a "joke" — quickly came back to haunt him.  To understand why this is so, we need to take into account a number of factors.

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Washington and Beijing; Trump and Xi

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X of Y ↔ Y(ed) X

Robert Ayers sent in this cartoon:
And asked "Was the 'colored person' fall from grace strictly a one off due to history? I see no movement from, eg, 'Asian person' to 'person of Asia'. Or 'Irishman' to 'man of Ireland'."

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Reading problems?

Or maybe writing problems? Donald Trump's recent speech announcing the end of the government shutdown was read (I presume from a teleprompter), but the reading was awkward in at least two ways: the president often pronounced unstressed function words in a full and unreduced form, and his phrasing was odd, sometimes to the point of obscuring the meaning.

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Ben Zimmer on "ratfucking"

Ben Zimmer has a great piece at Politico, "Roger Stone and 'Ratfucking': A Short History". The subtitle: "The flamboyant political aide is often tagged with the term. But its origins—and Stone’s relationship with the word—are complicated."

Ben takes the history back to one of Edmund Wilson's notebooks in 1922, and (via Jesse Sheidlower) before that to WWI military slang:

Sheidlower zeroes in on a veteran of General John J. Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force named Leonard H. Nason, who used a series of rat-related euphemisms in novels he wrote based on his experiences at war. His favorite circumlocution was “rat-kissing” to describe destructive activity, as in, “No more of this rat-kissing” (Sergeant Eadie, 1928) or, “You know, I had a sergeancy clinched if we hadn’t run into all this rat-kissing!” (The Man in the White Slicker, 1929). And in a turn of phrase that Ted Cruz would appreciate, Nason referred to “this here gigantic rat-copulation they call a war” in his 1930 novel, A Corporal Once.

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Peppa Pig uncensored — for now

Last year, poor Peppa was banned from the airwaves, online video channels, and movie theaters in China after she fell afoul of the censors for allegedly associating with gangsta characters.

"Peppa Pig has been purged" (5/2/18)

Now she's been rehabilitated, and just in time:

"Peppa Pig to celebrate Chinese New Year with special film", Kylie Knott, SCMP (1/12/19)

New characters include Dumpling and Glutinous Rice Ball, both popular Chinese New Year delicacies

The British cartoon character that fell foul with Chinese censors last year

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Speak Hakka, our Mother Tongue

From the Hakka Affairs Council in Taiwan:


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The face of censorship

Here's what it looks like:

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