Archive for Rhetoric

Eat vinegar, Jesus Christ, and Middle Persian

I've always been intrigued by the Chinese expression "eat vinegar" (chīcù 吃醋) meaning "be jealous".  To convey the idea of "jealous", one can also say dùjì 妒忌 or just dù 妒 (note the female semantophore).  I learned the disyllabic form with the syllables reversed, hence jìdù 忌妒.  The monosyllabic form (dù 妒) is ancient, going back to classical times.

I said jìdù 忌妒 instead of dùjì 妒忌 because the former is what all my Chinese friends and relatives said, though my impression is that the latter is more common across the Mandarin-speaking population.  Nonetheless, I felt that saying jìdù 忌妒 was awkward because, except for the tones, it is homophonous with Jīdū 基督, which I always understood as some form of "Jesus".  In fact, Jīdū 基督 is a short form of Jīlìsīdū 基利斯督, which is a transcription of "Christ", from Ancient Greek Χριστός (Khristós).  The Sinitic transcription of "Jesus" is Yēsū 耶稣, which ultimately also comes from Ancient Greek:  Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs), possibly via Latin Iesus and other European languages. Doublet of Yīyīsūsī 伊伊穌斯/伊伊稣斯.  (source)

Incidentally, jì 忌 is a simplified form of  嫉 ("to envy, be jealous; to hate, resent").  Note that this traditional form of the character, like dù 妒, its synonymous morpheme partner in the disyllabic word jídù 嫉妒 ("jealous"), also has a female semantophore.  Thus we get a double whammy of misogyny in jídù 嫉妒 ("jealous").  

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The art of the promo

One of the assignments in ling001 "Introduction to Linguistics" is a Final Project, which is a piece of original linguistic analysis. The results are often excellent, as these examples from five or six years ago indicate. One especially successful example was Jared Fenton's 2014 analysis of "The art of the promo", about the monologues delivered by pro wrestling "superstars" in order to generate audience interest.

This analysis gained new relevance in 2015, when Donald Trump began using the same techniques in the political arena. So Jared recently wrote a piece for Medium, "Will WWE Techniques Help Win Trump Two Elections?"

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Before their time

Sarah Cooper's marvelous enactments of Donald Trump's rhetoric have earned her an enormous audience — 22.4M views for this one on twitter, for example, plus more views on tiktok and youtube.

But there's another comedian who pioneered the same technique — lip-syncing Trump — to a significantly smaller audience back in 2015 and 2016. Or I should say "comedy team" rather than "comedian", since these Trump-syncing videos come from a trio of comedians at Friend Dog Studios, Brian Huther, Ben Auxier, and Seth Macchi. I linked to an example in "Donald Trump's repetitive rhetoric", 12/5/2015. And I think their work deserves to be revived.


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There is no best but better

Tweet by Thomas Packard:

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Metonymy of the week

Lawrence Downes, "How to turn Sean Hannity into food for worms", WaPo 8/6/2020:

I didn’t set out to compost Sean Hannity. It was something I settled on after considering several other options and rejecting them one by one. The first was leaving him in the basement indefinitely. That worked for a while. I could almost forget about him there, but then I would go down with a basket of laundry and see him and think, I have to do something.

I should explain: I don’t mean the man himself, but Hannity the book. It’s called “Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism.”

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Tilting vessel

Earlier this year, we had a post about a fascinating new Wikipedia article on "Goblet word" (5/30/20).  That post was about a vessel that served as an analogy for a rhetorical device called zhīyán 卮言 ("goblet word").  Now we have another magisterial Wikipedia article by an anonymous master of Chinese esoterica.  It's about another name for a similar type of vessel called qīqì 欹器, "tilting vessel".

The qīqì (欹器, "tilting vessel" or "tipping vessel") was an ancient Chinese ceremonial utensil that automatically overturned and spilled its contents once it reached capacity, thus symbolizing moderation and caution. Both Confucian and Daoist Chinese classics include a famous anecdote about the first time Confucius saw a tilting vessel. In the Confucian tradition (e.g., Xunzi) it was also named yòuzuò zhī qì (宥座之器, "vessel on the right of one's seat"), with three positions, the vessel tilts to one side when empty, stands upright when filled halfway, and overturns when filled to the brim—illustrating the philosophical value of the golden mean. In the Daoist tradition, the tilting vessel was named yòuzhī (宥卮, "urging goblet" or "warning goblet"), with two positions, staying upright when empty and overturning when full—illustrating the metaphysical value of emptiness, and later associated with the Zhuangzian zhīyán (卮言, "goblet words") rhetorical device.

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Disfluency stylings: On beyond hesitation

Some things that "everybody knows" are refuted repeatedly by the experience of everyday life. A notably example is the function of "filled pauses", whose American English versions are conventionally written "um" and "uh".

Dictionaries all say that these are are expressions of hesitation, doubt, uncertainty; ways to fill time or hold the floor. The OED glosses uh as "Expressing hesitation", and um as "Used to indicate hesitation or doubt in replying to another". Wiktionary glosses uh as "Expression of thought, confusion, or uncertainty", or "Space filler or pause during conversation", and um as "Expression of hesitation, uncertainty or space filler in conversation". Merriam-Webster glosses uh as "used to express hesitation", and um as "used to indicate hesitation". Collins glosses uh as "used when hesitating in speaking, as while searching for a word or collecting one's thoughts", and um as "used in writing to represent a sound that people make when they are hesitating, usually while deciding what they want to say next".

So what are we to make of this, the opening phrase of an hour-long video interview?

uh thanks for tuning in today

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Impressive Arabic translational improvisations and impostures

Since 1979, being in a department that proudly called itself "Oriental Studies", a distinguished component of which was Arabic Studies, I had often heard of "maqama" and was quite aware that it was a virtuoso literary form:

Maqāmah (مقامة, pl. maqāmāt, مقامات, literally "assemblies") are an (originally) Arabic prosimetric literary genre which alternates the Arabic rhymed prose known as Saj‘ with intervals of poetry in which rhetorical extravagance is conspicuous.

Source

Now, a new rendering of al-Ḥarīrī's masterpiece of the genre by Michael Cooperson, titled simply Impostures, attempts to convey in English the wild exuberance of the language of the original:

"Fiction: Fifty Approaches to an Antic Arabic Masterpiece:  The Maqāmāt shows off all that Arabic can do. This translation shows off English in the same flattering light."  By Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal (June 26, 2020)

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Modeling

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Graduation speech by a West African student at National Taiwan University

Stunning speech (7:49) by Achille, a graduating student from Burkina Faso at the NTU commencement on June 6:

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Goblet word

That's the title of a wonderful new Wikipedia article from a volunteer editor who has written scores of major articles (ancient Chinese thought, religion, culture, literature, language and linguistics, lexicography, etc.) for the online encyclopedia of record.  This one is about a peculiar type of ancient Chinese drinking vessel, the zhī 卮, which tilts over when full and rights itself when empty.  The vessel served as an analogy for a rhetorical device called zhīyán 卮言 ("goblet word"), "a mystical linguistic ideology, which is generally interpreted to mean fluid language that maintains its equilibrium through shifting meanings and viewpoints, thus enabling one to spontaneously go along with all sides of an argument."

Along with other neologistic figures of speech, zhīyán 卮言 ("goblet word") is featured in the 33rd and final chapter, "Tiānxià 天下 ("[All] Under Heaven"), which summarizes early Chinese thought, of the Zhuang Zi 莊子 (Master Zhuang), my favorite ancient Chinese text.  For a complete translation, see Victor H. Mair, tr., Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998; first ed. New York:  Bantam, 1994); also available as Zhuangzi Bilingual Edition, translated by Victor H. Mair (English) and Minci Li (Modern Chinese) (Columbus:  The Ohio State University Foreign Language Publications, production of the National East Asian Languages Resource Center, OSU, 2019) — this is actually a trilingual edition, since the 736 pages volume also includes the original Classical Chinese version.

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A Chinese citizen's thoughts on Matt Pottinger's speech in Mandarin

The CCP government has done its utmost to prevent Chinese citizens from viewing Matt Pottinger's remarkable May Fourth speech (see "Selected Readings" below) or even from reading about it or expressing their ideas concerning it.  Yet some of them have taken the risk of using illegal VPNs to jump the Great Firewall (GFW) and have managed to see Pottinger's presentation with their own eyes.  Among those who have watched the video of Pottinger's speech, some have dared to express their reactions to it.  Here is one:

I watched Matt Pottinger's message. His Chinese is excellent except for his stressing on more than necessary words that makes him sound a bit unnatural like machine-generated. Had he been acquainted with the subtleness of spoken Chinese, he would definitely qualify for an A+.

Not surprisingly, his message can't be watched within the GFW. What's on the news are the slams and abuses on the message from the official media. Some curious people might wonder what the original message is and climb over the walls to explore. There are quite a few comments on the official news demanding access to the original message of Pottinger so that people may "join the government to criticize".

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Matthew Pottinger's speech in Mandarin

Something extraordinary happened on May 4, 2020.  Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger delivered an extremely impressive speech in virtually flawless Mandarin.  Here it is:

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