Archive for Language and politics

The Shanghai Stampede: incident or accident?

On New Year's Eve, a fatal stampede broke out on the Bund in Shanghai.  Many people died (see below for a discussion of the total number) and many more were injured, some seriously.

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Presidential pronouns: This time it's Ron Fournier

Ron Fournier, "Is Obama More Interested in Progress or Politics?", National Journal, 1/20/2015:

Count how many times Obama uses the words "I," "me," and "my." Compare that number to how often he says, "You," "we," "our." If the first number is greater than the second, Obama has failed.

This leads naturally to a different question: "Is Ron Fournier More Interested in Analysis or in Bullshit?" (where I mean "bullshit" in the technical philosophical sense, of course).

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Metaphoric mash-up of the month

Dave Davies, "Clarke out of Philly mayor's race — Butkovitz in?", newsworks 1/13/2015:

Butkovitz made it clear months ago he wanted to run for mayor. He engaged an experienced campaign team, but found it hard to raise money, particularly from unions, as long as there was a chance Clarke might run.

In November, Butkovitz called the whole thing off, said he wasn't running. But he said yesterday Clarke's announcement might change his thinking.

"The phone is ringing off the hook today," he said. "There's a large number of people, contributors, activists, calling up and asking me to get into the race. We're going to have to put a barometer into the water here and figure out what the lay of the land is."

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It's hard being loved by jerks

The most tasteful and relevant of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons:

The title "Mahomet débordé par les intégristes" means "Muhammad overwhelmed by the fundamentalists"; and the speech balloon "C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons" means "It's hard being loved by jerks", a thought that must also occasionally have occurred to Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and others.

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Nous sommes Charlie

jesuischarlie Should publishing a cartoon representation of the prophet Mohammed be punishable by death?

After the massacre of magazine staff by lunatic Islamist murderers that took place in Paris two days ago, many who think the answer is "No" have begun displaying buttons or placards saying Je suis Charlie. I'd wear one myself if I could get one.

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Sony hacker language

Everybody is in a tizzy over the hacking of Sony Pictures.  Most people assume that North Korea was behind the hacking, which caused Sony Pictures to withdraw "The Interview" shortly before it was supposed to open in theaters.

Some of the coverage: "U.S. Intelligence Connects North Korea to Sony Hack: Reports", Newsweek 12/17/14; "A Look At North Korea's Cyberwar Capabilities", Huffington Post 12/18/14; "Obama May Have Forced Sony To Release 'The Interview'", Business Insider12/20/14.

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Xinhua breaks ban on puns

I was going to write "Xinhua brakes ban on puns".  Upon reconsideration, I thought that would only lead to confusion, but it might at least have given an idea of how bad their pun is.

First of all, just so everyone knows, Xinhua is Xinhua ("New China") News Agency, the official press agency of the People's Republic of China.

Carl Minzner tweeted:

Open violation of ban on wordplay! Name of new Chinese state website dedicated to Xi Jinping? 学习进行时

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Censored letter

A current cause célèbre in China concerns a letter that was supposedly written by a little boy to the President of China, Xi Jinping:

"‘Not as skinny as Obama, like Putin is okay.’ China censors schoolboy’s suggestion that Xi lose weight" (12/18/14)

"A 9-year-old told China’s president to lose some weight—and censors shut him down" (12/18/14)

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When puns are outlawed …

Scott Alexander ("Come ye to Bethlinkhem", 12/8/2014) does his best to generate sympathy for the Chinese authorities:

China bans puns on the grounds that they may mislead children and defile cultural heritage. Language Log is on the story, and discusses the (extremely plausible) theory that this is part of a crackdown on people who use puns to get around censorship. Obligatory link to the Ten Mythical Creatures here. There’s no censor sensibility to the law, and it seems likely to cause Confucian and dis-Orientation among punks and pundits alike in its wonton disregard for personal freedom and attempts to bamboo-zle the public. It’s safe Tibet that dissidents who just Taipei single pun online will end up panda price and facing time in the punitentiary or even capital punishment – but those Hu support the government can Maoth off as much as they want and still wok free. I Canton derstand how people wouldn’t realize that this homophonbic bigotry raises a bunch of red flags. In the end, one Deng is clear: when puns are outlawed, only outlaws will have puns.

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New Cantonese word

Simon Pettersson called my attention to a new and popular Hong Kong word that's spreading fast:  gau1wu1 鳩嗚 ("shopping").  It's a rendering of the Mandarin word gòuwù 購物 in Cantonese created by picking characters that sound like the Mandarin word when read in Cantonese.  Additionally, gau1 鳩 (jiū in Mandarin) officially means "dove", but is mostly used in Hong Kong to write the homonym that is a vulgar word for penis, which is also written 尻 and several other ways, too:

gau1 [門+九], sometimes wrongly (or perhaps I should say euphemistically) written as gau1 / hou1 / haau1 尻 (" end of spine; buttocks, sacrum"), is a vulgar Cantonese word that means "a cock" or "cocky".

The second syllable, wu1 嗚, when not being used for punning purposes as in the case of gau1wu1 鳩嗚 ("shopping"), where it stands for the sound of Mandarin wù 物 ("thing; object; substance; matter"), normally functions in the following ways:

[1] [onomatopeia] toot; hoot; zoom
[2] [interjection] alas

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It's not just puns that are being banned in China

Even non-linguists and those who are not China watchers could hardly escape the momentous announcement of the Chinese government last week that casual punning was being outlawed:

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Ko P

Just in case you hadn't seen this in the news, the winner of the Taipei mayoral election held on November 28, 2014 is Ko Wen-je (Kē Wénzhé 柯文哲), a trauma surgeon who ran as an independent.

"Pro-independence party candidate Ko Wen-je claims victory in Taipei mayor race"
The Straits Times (11/29/14)

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Class war skirmishes in England

Several manifestations of verbal and visual class warfare have recently hit the mass media in Britain. The subtlest example, least transparent to outsiders, is the affair of the white van in Rochester — William James, "In class obsessed Britain, tweet of 'white van' man hits nerve", Reuters 11/21/2014:

Posting a picture on Twitter of a two-storey house, displaying three English flags of St. George and with a white tradesman's van outside, might seem innocuous to a foreign eye.

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