Otatsiihtaissiiststakio piksi makamo ta psswia

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According to Nancy Montgomery, "Army unit recruiting ‘innovative thinkers’", Stars and Stripes 3/18/2010, that's the motto of the U.S. Army's Asymmetric Warfare Group. It's said to be the Blackfoot version of the English phrase "Normal is the cycle on a washing machine".

The Army Institute of Heraldry's page on the AWG shows its shoulder sleeve insignia to be "a black circular device edged with a 1/8 inch (.32 cm) black border, a red horizontal arrow, pointing to the left",  as shown in the upper right corner of this post.  But the banner on the AWG's own page shows the same insignia with the cited motto in red around the circumference of the patch, as reproduced below:

The Stars and Stripes article says that the motto "came from a book about the Vietnam War […] [and] was translated in honor of an AWG member who was a member of the Blackfoot Nation."

Versions of the saying "Normal is (just|only|nothing_but) the|a cycle|setting on the|a washing machine" has been around for a while, and it sounds like a Vietnam-era kind of sentiment. The phrase apparently is used in John McAfee's 1993 Vietnam novel Slow walk in a sad rain, and given the  description of the AWG in Stars and Stripes, and the description of the book in this review, it may well be the source of the motto:

The story begins in Special Forces A Camp, number 413, twenty miles from the Cambodian border. The camp's Green Berets, dividing their time between boredom and terror, are ostensibly led by a captain, the narrator of the story. But the officer actually takes his cue from an aggressive sergeant named Shotgun who is alternately crazy and wise, but always irresistibly, frighteningly dangerous. The altogether appropriate motto of A Camp is "Normal is a cycle on a washing machine." Commanding officers issue orders that have no meaning; weapons are used in ways that are the grotesque opposite of their original design. And in an experience that has a real-life counterpart, the Green Berets stumble on a shocking alliance between the CIA and North Vietnam, something they realize they must destroy — even at the cost of bringing both sides down on them.

Can anyone verify the accuracy of the translation into Blackfoot, preferably with an interlinear analysis?


  1. Ken Grabach said,

    March 17, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

    I cannot speak to the Blackfoot language, or to a translation of the phrase. I hope these brief remarks are of interest, however. The phrase in English (and the variants including qualifiers just | only | nothing_but) seems to have currency in a variety of areas that I presume are not associated with the Asymmetrical War Group. Blogs, an environmental group in Cambridge, England, a wellness group, and other uses, such as a women's tank top with the slogan, come up with a Google search. Many results occur, also, about washing machines.

    My first encounter of it was only two days ago, when someone replied to a friend's Facebook status in which the friend said he was 'back to normal' after an illness. "Normal is only…" was the reply.

    For what it's worth, Normal is not a cycle on my washing machine.

    [(myl) "Normal is not a cycle on my washing machine" is a pretty t-shirtable slogan itself, though I guess you risk having some of the AWG guys take it the wrong way.

    I can't check at the moment, since I'm in Dallas for ICASSP 2010, but I don't think that Normal is a cycle on my washing machine either.]

  2. Melanoman said,

    March 17, 2010 @ 7:40 pm

    My Maytag EPIC z has a "normal" setting.

  3. Melanoman said,

    March 17, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

    I'm intrigued by the phrase "weapons are used in ways that are the grotesque opposite of their original design."

    They were designed to maim and kill. What it the opposite of that? And would that be grotesque?

  4. Ray Girvan said,

    March 17, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

    weapons are used in ways that are the grotesque opposite of their original design

    I must read it; I also puzzled over that one. Knives held by the blade and the handle used as a club? Guns where the projectile stays stationary and the gun mechanism is fired at the enemy?

    [(myl) Rifles used as crowbars? Helicopter parts used as revetments? JP4 used as weed killer? I've seen all of those.]

  5. Peter said,

    March 17, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

    Well, I think reattaching limbs and raising the dead would be rather grotesque. I'm not sure exactly how you'd manage it with weapons though.

  6. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 12:07 am

    I assume this is supposed to be:

    Otatsiihtáíssiiststakio’piksi makámo’ta’pssiwa.
    otats-iihtáíssiiststakio’p-iksi makámo’ta’pssi-wa
    on-washing.machine-an.pl be.normal(AI)-3

    However, note that there is no word for "cycle". I'm not a speaker of Blackfoot, just a linguist working on Blackfoot with Frantz's dictionary, so I suppose this sentence might be interpretable as "there is normal on washing machines", but I would probably translate it as "it's normal on washing machines".

    [( myl) How about "Normal is on washing machines"? That would be closer to the original intent than both of the others.

    But anyhow, thank!]

  7. Helena Constantine said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 12:50 am

    "weapons are used in ways that are the grotesque opposite of their original design."

    Attack helicopters designed to destroy Soviet tanks on the clear North German plain, instead used to shoot at irregular infantry hiding in the jungle?

  8. Ginger Yellow said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 7:32 am

    Swords used as ploughshares, presumably.

  9. Ken Grabach said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 8:30 am

    Considering the Vietnam Conflict as the context for the quotation, I am wondering if "weapons are used in ways that are the grotesque opposite of their original design" is referring to the brutaliity with which they might have been used. A military weapon is designed to kill, Using a weapon repeatedly on an already dead body is not really "opposite", but certainly different than the military trainers intended. And trainers teach them to use their weapons on combatants only. In guerilla warfare, however, it is hard to tell the combatants from non-combatants.
    Considering the rather mild stories I heard from returned veterans when I was in college, and more infamous incidents such as at My Lai, I suspect this is what the author means.

  10. Franz Bebop said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 10:03 am

    That motto reminds me of the term "regular coffee".

  11. Brian J. said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

    I once saw part of a Vietnam documentary in which some soldiers were using a partially dismantled rifle as a sort of novelty marijuana pipe. Presumably, none of them felt terribly motivated to fight anyone afterward.

  12. TootsNYC said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

    AK-47's used as crochet hooks; bayonets as knitting needles or cooking skewers?

    I agree, "Normal is not a cycle on my washing machine" belongs on a T-shirt.

  13. Aaron Davies said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

    there's a persistent rumor that the bayonet was invented as a can-opener.

  14. Aaron Davies said,

    March 18, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

    aaaaaaaaaaand the link on "persistent rumor" was supposed to be to this: persistent rumor .

  15. parse said,

    March 19, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

    I once saw part of a Vietnam documentary in which some soldiers were using a partially dismantled rifle as a sort of novelty marijuana pipe.

    I've heard this is the source of using "shotgun" to mean the act of placing the lit end of a blunt or joint in one's mouth and blowing the smoke into the nose of another smoker.

  16. Robert said,

    March 23, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

    >> Helicopter parts used as revetments

    What does revetment mean here? I am only familiar with it in its Grothendieckian sense.

    [(myl) "an embankment or wall as of sandbags or earth, constructed to protect against strafing, shell fragments, etc.".

    Pieces of plywood with sand or earth between them are faster than piles of sandbags. But there was a policy against using plywood, since it was deemed wasteful. So in my unit, the officers used pieces of aircraft sheetmetal in place of plywood for this purpose.]

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