Archive for Language and politics

Whore or horde?

Several people have written to ask whether phonetic analysis can settle a Canadian political controversy, described in a November 19 CBC News article "Sask. MP Tom Lukiwski denies callng female politician a 'whore'":

Saskatchewan Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski has denied that he referred to a female politician as a "whore" — and interim party leader Rona Ambrose says she accepts his explanation.

"I did not say 'whore,'" Lukiwski told CBC News on Thursday. "I said 'horde,' as in NDP gang."

Lukiwski's comment came after Saskatchewan journalist Mickey Djuric blogged about Lukiwski's victory speech at the Eagles Club in Moose Jaw, Sask., on election night, Oct. 19. […]

"This is a very important election provincially," Lukiwski said. "We got to get Greg back elected."

"He's too important of an MLA to let go down to an NDP" — and at this point Lukiwski says either "whore" or "horde" —"just because of a bad boundary."

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Pronouncing "Daesh"

In the comments on yesterday's post, the question arose about how the  Arabic-based acronym "Daesh" (from al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, "the islamic state of Iraq and the Levant", maybe better rendered as "Da’ish") would be pronounced in English.

We now know what Barack Obama's choice is — [dæʃ], as in "dash":

Turkey's been a strong partner with the United States and other members of the coalition in going after uh the activities of ISIL or Daesh uh both in Syria and Iraq
 uh to help to fortify the borders between Syria and Turkey that uh allowed Daesh to operate
and to eliminate uh Daesh as uh a force that can create uh so much pain and suffering

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George Will discovers the idea of "facts"

The news recently has been full of the debate between George F. Will and Bill O'Reilly. This started because of O'Reilly's book Killing Reagan, whose central premise is that the unsuccessful 1981 assassination attempt was, in a deeper sense, successful. Will explains why this premise is important ("Bill O’Reilly makes a mess of history", Washington Post 10/10/2015):

The prolific O’Reilly has, with his collaborator Martin Dugard, produced five “history” books in five years: “Killing Lincoln,” “Killing Kennedy, “Killing Jesus,” “Killing Patton” and now the best-selling “Killing Reagan.” Because no one actually killed Reagan, O’Reilly keeps his lucrative series going by postulating that the bullet that struck Reagan in March 1981 kind of, sort of killed him, although he lived 23 more years.

O’Reilly “reports” that the trauma of the assassination attempt was somehow causally related to the “fact” that Reagan was frequently so mentally incompetent that senior aides contemplated using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove him from office. But neither O’Reilly nor Dugard spoke with any of those aides — not with Ed Meese, Jim Baker, George Shultz or any of the scores of others who could, and would, have demolished O’Reilly’s theory. O’Reilly now airily dismisses them because they “have skin in the game.” His is an interesting approach to writing history: Never talk to anyone with firsthand knowledge of your subject.

Instead, O’Reilly made the book’s “centerpiece” a memo he has never seen and never tried to see until 27 days after the book was published.

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Ma-Xi –> MaXi

What is the message conveyed by this strange photograph and the unusual writing on it?


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"Lobsters": a perplexing stop motion film

Matt Anderson called my attention to a short (15:49), enigmatic 1959 Chinese film:

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The mysteries of 13.5

China is in the throes of hammering out its next five-year plan, on the model of the USSR.  For China, the current one they're working on is the thirteenth, so they refer to it as 13.5.  In Mandarin, that would be shísānwǔ 十三五.  Although the Communist bureaucrats think these five-year plans are hugely important, for the common citizen they are dreadfully boring.  For non-Chinese looking on, they are worse than boring, so — in an effort to explain and hype 13.5 to English speakers around the world, the Chinese Communist Party has sponsored the making of a glitzy-cutesy video that enjoins viewers to "pay attention to the shisanwu!"

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More Flesch-Kincaid grade-level nonsense

Matt Viser, "For presidential hopefuls, simpler language resonates" (" Trump tops GOP field while talking to voters at fourth-grade level"), Boston Globe 10.20/2015:

When Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign, he decried the lack of intelligence of elected officials in characteristically blunt terms.

“How stupid are our leaders?” he said. “How stupid are they?”

But with his own choice of words and his short, simple sentences, Trump’s speech could have been comprehended by a fourth-grader. Yes, a fourth-grader.

The Globe reviewed the language used by 19 presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans, in speeches announcing their campaigns for the 2016 presidential election. The review, using a common algorithm called the Flesch-Kincaid readability test that crunches word choice and sentence structure and spits out grade-level rankings, produced some striking results.

The Republican candidates — like Trump — who are speaking at a level easily understood by people at the lower end of the education spectrum are outperforming their highfalutin opponents in the polls.

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Austin Ramzy, "Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister of Australia, Raises Eyebrows With Emojis", NYT 10/22/2015:

What, exactly, does that scowling, red-faced emoji mean? I’m mad? Frustrated? Sunburned?  

The question, which has plagued more than a few text-message exchanges, became a topic of debate in the Australian Senate on Thursday, when Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s liberal use of emojis came under question during a committee meeting.

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Rand Paul's "dumbass" comment

Two years ago, I posted about a flubbed joke on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update," wherein Taran Killam as historical critic Jebidiah Atkinson slammed FDR's Pearl Harbor address as "a speech that was so boring-ass." The joke as originally written probably referred to a "boring-ass speech," because "[adjective]-ass" almost always occurs attributively (pre-modifying a noun or noun phrase) and not as a predicate adjective. (Acceptability judgments of the predicative use will vary, of course.)

Attributive vs. predicative use of "[adjective]-ass" is relevant again this week, after Sen. Rand Paul was captured on camera being snarky about a daylong livestreaming event his campaign was recording. Asked if he was indeed still running for President, he said:

"I don't know — wouldn't be doing this dumbass livestreaming if I weren't. So yes, I still am running for President. Get over it."

Paul told Fox News today that the comment was intended to be sarcastic. As Talking Points Memo reported,

Paul, who took flak this week for a subdued appearance in a day-long livestream video produced by his campaign, told Fox's "America's Newsroom" that he was joking when he called the exercise "dumbass."

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Oli ko goli

Anschel Schaffer-Cohen writes:

I was reading this Guardian article about the newly elected prime minister of Nepal, and I was a bit surprised by this sentence:

Oli, 63, is generally popular in Nepal and has a reputation for being outspoken. Some use the phrase “Oli ko goli” to describe him – “When Oli speaks, he fires [a bullet]”.

Can so few syllables–three, not counting his name–actually contain that much information? What's the literal translation of this phrase, and if there's implied context where does it come from? Since I remember reading that you speak Nepali, I was hoping you could shed some light on this, either personally or on the blog.

You can find similar translations of “Oli ko goli” all over the web, but they're all wrong.

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Outlawed Uyghur names

The Chinese government is troubled by the ongoing unrest in Xinjiang, the westernmost region of the country. The authorities attribute the turmoil to what they refer to as religious extremism, which, they believe, leads to terrorism. Moreover, religious extremism also foments separatism, which the government is dead set against. In an effort to reduce the impact of religious extremism, the government bans many cultural practices that they assert are manifestations of undesirable ideological tendencies.

Here, for example, is a sign that was posted outside hospital in Yining forbidding the burka, unusual facial hair, the hijab, the symbolism of the crescent moon with star, and any apparel conveying pronounced religious sentiments:

(Photograph courtesy of an anonymous colleague)

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Grading political comments

A dozen people have sent me links to this blog post — "Presidential Debate Grammar Power Rankings", Grammarly Blog 10/6/2015 — or to various commentaries on it, e.g. Justin Moyer, "Trump supporters have the worst Facebook grammar, study finds", WaPo 10/7/2015; Emily Atkin, "New Analysis Ranks Presidential Candidates By Their Supporters’ Grammar", ThinkProgress 10/6/2015; Paul Singer, "Democrats crush Republicans in grammar; Chafee on top", USA Today; "Trump First in the Polls, But His Supporters Are Last in Grammar", Yahoo! Health 10/7/2015; etc.

I don't have time this afternoon to write anything more about this, so feel free to talk among yourselves…


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Vocabulary display in the CNN debate

For fans of what we might call rhetoricometry — methods that let you analyze political discourse without having to listen to it or read it :-) — here's a type-token plot of the contributions to Wednesday's CNN debate of five of the eleven candidates who were featured in the prime-time round:

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