Archive for ‘Language’

June 7, 2018

Swan Song

led zeppelin

The swan song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement. The phrase refers to an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song just before their death, having been silent (or alternatively, not so musical) during most of their lifetime. This belief, whose basis in actuality is long-debated, had become proverbial in ancient Greece by the 3rd century BCE, and was reiterated many times in later Western poetry and art.

In Greek mythology, the swan was a bird consecrated to Apollo and was therefore considered a symbol of harmony and beauty.

read more »

May 29, 2018

Trust, But Verify

Reagan and Gorbachev by Terry Mosher

Trust, but verify is a Russian proverb that became well known in English when used by President Ronald Reagan on multiple occasions in the context of nuclear disarmament.

Suzanne Massie, an American author living in Russia, met with President Ronald Reagan many times between 1984 and 1987. She taught him the proverb, advising him that ‘The Russians like to talk in proverbs. It would be nice of you to know a few. You are an actor – you can learn them very quickly.’ The proverb was adopted as a signature phrase by Reagan, who subsequently used it frequently when discussing U.S. relations with the Soviet Union. Using proverbs that the Russians could relate to may have helped relations between the two leaders.

read more »

October 3, 2017

Whole Nine Yards

The Doom Pussy

The whole nine yards is a colloquial American phrase meaning ‘everything, the whole lot’ or, adjectivally, ‘all the way.’ Its origin is unknown and has been described by Yale University librarian Fred R. Shapiro as ‘the most prominent etymological riddle of our time.’

The Oxford English Dictionary finds the earliest published non-idiomatic use in an 1855 Indiana newspaper article. The earliest known idiomatic use of the phrase is from 1907 in southern Indiana. The phrase is related to the expression the ‘whole six yards,’ used around the same time in Kentucky and South Carolina. Both phrases are variations on the ‘whole ball of wax,’ first recorded in the 1880s. They are part of a family of expressions in which an odd-sounding item, such as ‘enchilada,’ ‘shooting match,’ ‘shebang,’ or ‘hog,’ is substituted for ‘ball of wax.’ The choice of the number nine may be related to the expression ‘To the nines’ (to perfection).

read more »

September 5, 2017

Pseudo-anglicism

Spanglish

Pseudo-anglicisms [ang-gluh-siz-uhms] are words in languages other than English which were borrowed from English but are used in a way native English speakers would not readily recognize or understand.

Pseudo-anglicisms often take the form of compound words, combining elements of multiple English words to create a new word that appears to be English but is unrecognizable to a native speaker. It is also common for a genuine English word to be used to mean something completely different from its original meaning.

read more »

September 1, 2017

The Exception Proves the Rule

All models are wrong

The exception [that] proves the rule‘ is a saying whose meaning has been interpreted or misinterpreted in various ways. Its true, or at least original, meaning is that the presence of an exception applying to a specific case establishes (‘proves’) that a general rule exists.

For example, a sign that says ‘parking prohibited on Sundays’ (the exception) ‘proves’ that parking is allowed on the other six days of the week (the rule). A more explicit phrasing might be ‘the exception indicates the existence of the rule.’

read more »

August 3, 2017

Nominative Determinism

Implicit egotism

Nominative [nom-uh-nuh-tivdeterminism [dih-tur-muh-niz-uhm] is the hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fit their names. The term was first used in the magazine ‘New Scientist’ in 1994, after its humorous ‘Feedback’ column noted several studies carried out by researchers with remarkably fitting surnames.

These included a book on polar explorations by Daniel Snowman and an article on urology by researchers named Splatt and Weedon. These and other examples led to light-hearted speculation that some sort of psychological effect was at work.

read more »

June 7, 2017

Woke

Awaken, My Love

BLM

Woke is a slang word from African American vernacular which refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social and racial justice. The related phrase ‘stay woke’ refers to a continuing awareness of these issues. Its widespread use since 2014 is a result of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, a decentralized campaign against violence and systemic racism toward black people.

‘Oxford Dictionaries’ records early politically conscious usage in 1962 in the article ‘If You’re Woke You Dig It’ by William Melvin Kelley in ‘The New York Times’ and in the 1971 play ‘Garvey Lives!’ by Barry Beckham (‘I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I’m gon stay woke. And I’m gon help him wake up other black folk.’)

read more »

May 24, 2017

Product Naming

rose by any other name

Product naming is the discipline of deciding what a product will be called, and is very similar in concept and approach to the process of deciding on a name for a company or organization. Product naming is considered a critical part of the branding process, which includes all of the marketing activities that affect the brand image, such as positioning (the place that a brand occupies in the mind of the customer) and the design of logos, packaging, and the product itself.

The process involved in product naming can take months or years to complete. Some key steps include specifying the objectives of the branding, developing the product name itself, evaluating names through target market testing and focus groups, choosing a final product name, and finally identifying it as a trademark for protection.

read more »

April 17, 2017

Idiot Plot

Burn After Reading

In literary criticism, an idiot plot is ‘a plot which is kept in motion solely by virtue of the fact that everybody involved is an idiot’ and where the story would otherwise be over if this were not the case. It is a narrative where its conflict comes from characters not recognizing, or not being told, key information that would resolve the conflict, often because of plot contrivance.

The only thing that prevents the conflict’s resolution is the character’s constant avoidance or obliviousness of it throughout the plot, even if it was already obvious to the viewer, so the characters are all ‘idiots’ in that they are too obtuse to simply resolve the conflict immediately.

read more »

February 21, 2017

Vatnik

vatnik

Vatnik (Russian: ‘cotton-padded jacket’), a derivative of and often shortened to ‘vata’ (Russian: ‘batting’), is a derogatory social slang neologisms in Russian and Ukrainian languages, and an internet meme used in reference to individuals with pro-Russian jingoist and chauvinist views. In the original meaning, ‘vatnik’ (also ‘telogreika’) is a cheap cotton-padded jacket.

The meme was created by Anton Chadskiy under the pseudonym ‘Jedem das Seine.’ His associated picture of an anthropomorphic square-shaped quilted jacket similar to the cartoon character ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ was first posted on Russian social network ‘VK’ September 9, 2011. The meme went viral in 2012, but became much more widespread in society after the Russian military intervention in Ukraine started in 2014. Chadskiy, claiming he feared political persecution, left Russia in late 2014.

read more »

Tags:
December 29, 2016

Bloom County

milo bloom

academia waltz

Bloom County is an American comic strip by Berkeley Breathed which ran from 1980 until 1989. It examined events in politics and culture through the viewpoint of a fanciful small town in Middle America, where children often have adult personalities and vocabularies and where animals can talk.

The fictional setting of ‘Bloom County’ served as a recurring backdrop for the comic and its sequels, although the nature of the setting was frequently altered. In the comics, the county is presented as a stereotypical American midwestern small town. The small town setting was frequently contrasted with the increasing globalization taking place in the rest of the world; though Bloom County contained the likes of farmers and wilderness creatures by default, it was frequented by Hare Krishnas, feminists, and rock stars.

read more »

Tags:
December 20, 2016

Post-truth Politics

fake news

brexit

Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of ‘secondary’ importance.

While this has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life, but was less notable before the advent of the Internet. In the novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ George Orwell cast a world in which the state is daily changing historic records to fit its propaganda goals of the day. Orwell is said to have based much of his criticism of this on Soviet Russian practices.

read more »