Archive for ‘Language’

October 16, 2020

Rotwelsch

Thieves' cant

Rotwelsch [rut-velsh] (German: ‘beggar’s foreign language’) or Gaunersprache (German: ‘crook’s language’) is a secret language, a cant or thieves’ argot, spoken by groups (primarily marginalized groups) in southern Germany and Switzerland. The language is based primarily on German.

Rotwelsch was formerly common among travelling craftspeople and vagrants. The language is built on a strong substratum of German, but contains numerous words from other languages, notably from various German dialects, including Yiddish, as well as from Romany languages, notably Sintitikes. There are also significant influences from Judeo-Latin, the ancient Jewish language spoken in the Roman Empire.

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October 14, 2020

Fool’s Errand

Blinker fluid

fool’s errand is a type of practical joke or prank where a newcomer to a group, typically in a professional context, is given an impossible or nonsensical task by older or more experienced members of the group.

Many such errands require the victim to travel some distance and request an impossible object by name; the prank will be widely known within the peer group as an in-joke, and the person they ask for the object will play along, often by sending the victim on to make the same request elsewhere. The errand is an example of a hazing ritual, through which a newcomer gains acceptance into a group.

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October 4, 2020

Jeitinho

Malandragem

Jeitinho [jay-cheen-yo] (Portuguese: ‘little way’) is finding a way to accomplish something by circumventing or bending the rules or social conventions. Most times it is harmless, made for basic ordinary opportunistic advantages, as gatecrashing a party just to get free food and beverage.

But sometimes it is used for questionable, serious violations, where an individual can use emotional resources, blackmail, family ties, promises, rewards or money to obtain (sometimes illegal) favors or to get advantage. Some claim it is a typically Brazilian method of social navigation that may derive from a general lack of resources and help. Most Brazilians have to be creative and invent new simpler ways to do things.

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August 15, 2020

Karen

Central Park birdwatching incident

Karen is a pejorative term used in the United States and other English-speaking countries for a person perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is appropriate or necessary. A common stereotype is that of a white woman who uses her privilege to demand her own way at the expense of others.

Depictions also include demanding to ‘speak to the manager,’ anti-vaccination beliefs, being racist, or sporting a particular bob cut hairstyle. As of 2020, the term was increasingly being used as a general-purpose term of disapproval for middle-aged white women.

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August 13, 2020

Iceberg Slim

pimp

Robert Beck, born Robert Lee Maupin, (1918 – 1992), better known as Iceberg Slim, was an American pimp who subsequently became an influential author among a primarily African-American readership.

Scottish author Irvine Welsh said ‘Iceberg Slim did for the pimp what Jean Genet did for the homosexual and thief and William Burroughs did for the junkie: he articulated the thoughts and feelings of someone who had been there. The big difference is that they were white.’

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July 7, 2020

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

La Begueule

Perfect is the enemy of good is an aphorism which is commonly attributed to French philosopher Voltaire, who quoted a similar Italian proverb in his ‘Dictionnaire philosophique’ in 1770. It subsequently appeared in his moral poem ‘La Bégueule.’ Aristotle, Confucius, and other classical philosophers propounded the principle of the ‘golden mean,’ which counsels against extremism in general.

The ‘Pareto principle,’ or 80–20 rule, explains this numerically. For example, it commonly takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task, while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort. Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns. Robert Watson-Watt, who developed Britain’s first radar detectors, propounded a ‘cult of the imperfect,’ which he stated as ‘Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes.’

April 9, 2020

Lies, Damned lies, and Statistics

How to Lie with Statistics

Lies, damned lies, and statistics‘ is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments. It is also used colloquially to doubt statistics cited to prove an opponent’s point.

The phrase derives from the full sentence, ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.’ It was popularized by Mark Twain and others, who mistakenly attributed it to the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. The true originator is uncertain, but it has, at times, been attributed to an anonymous writer in mid-1891 and later that year to English politician Sir Charles Dilke.

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March 22, 2020

Umarell

Bologna

Umarell is a term in Bologna for men of retirement age who pass the time watching construction sites, especially roadworks – stereotypically with hands clasped behind their back and offering unwanted advice.

It’s literal meaning is ‘little man’ and it is often pluralized in spelling by adding a final s (out of English influence). The wife of an umarell is called a ‘zdaura.’

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March 19, 2020

Creative nonfiction

In Cold Blood

Creative nonfiction (also known as verfabula) is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as academic or technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact but is not written to entertain based on prose style.

For a text to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate, and written with attention to literary style and technique. ‘Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.’ Forms within this genre include biography, autobiography, memoir, diary, travel writing, food writing, literary journalism, chronicle, personal essays, and other hybridized essays.

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February 15, 2020

Message in a Bottle

MS. Found in a Bottle

message in a bottle is a form of communication in which a message is sealed in a container (typically a bottle) and released into a conveyance medium (typically a body of water).

Messages in bottles have been used to send distress messages, in crowdsourced scientific studies of ocean currents, as memorial tributes, to send deceased loved ones’ ashes on a final journey, to convey expedition reports, and to carry letters or reports from those believing themselves to be doomed. Invitations to prospective pen pals and letters to actual or imagined love interests have also been sent as messages in bottles.

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December 1, 2019

Mansplaining

Rebecca Solnit

Mansplaining is a pejorative term meaning ‘(of a man) to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner.’ Lily Rothman, of ‘The Atlantic,’ defines it as “‘explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman.’

In its original use, mansplaining differed from other forms of condescension in that it is rooted in the assumption that a man is likely to be more knowledgeable than a woman. However, it has come to be used more broadly, often applied when a man takes a condescending tone in an explanation to anyone, regardless of the age or gender of the intended recipients: a ‘man ‘splaining’ can be delivered to any audience.

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November 17, 2019

Bromide

From Cliché to Archetype

Bromide [broh-mahyd] in literary usage means a phrase, cliché, or platitude that is trite or unoriginal. It can be intended to soothe or placate; it can suggest insincerity or a lack of originality in the speaker. It can also refer to a commonplace or tiresome person, a bore.

A now outdated usage of ‘bromide’ is a photographic print, stemming from the use of silver bromide in photographic films, emulsions and papers. Its original usage was as a chemical term, referring to bromine salts.

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