Quotulatiousness

December 9, 2017

The unique culture that is Quebec

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Paul Wells on the latest blow struck in the never-ending battle against the English language in La Belle Province:

This is the thing about language politics in Montreal. It’s a game with many participants but few spectators. It’s addictive fun to play and unbearable to watch. If you’re not arguing about the state of the fragile equilibrium — standoff? Cold war? — between the local francophone majority and the continental anglophone majority, then you’re just living your life. And living your life is almost always very different from whatever the current argument is about.

The latest argument is so stupid I have avoided it for a week. Probably you have heard anyway. Quebec’s National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution urging merchants to greet customers with a hearty “bonjour! The unstated subtext was that they should stop there and not add an incriminating “Hi!” in English. In fact, in the motion’s original wording, as presented by the Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée, it wasn’t even unstated. The frequent use of “Bonjour-hi” by Montreal merchants was described as an “irritant,” until Quebec premier Philippe Couillard sat down with Lisée and haggled over the motion, line by line, eventually removing the bit about “hi” being an irritant.

Thus amended — essentially, Say ‘bonjour!’ to customers, because the English language is… well, you know — the motion was adapted unanimously by the National Assembly.

Unanimous motions of the National Assembly are believed, by its members and by about three staffers at Le Devoir, to carry a particular weight, because they mark occasions when the representatives of the Québécois nation put aside their differences to speak with one voice in sacred defence of the besieged descendants of France on American soil. Unfortunately, the rush of passing such a motion must be intense to the point of addiction because for many years now, the members of the National Assembly have been passing so many that by now the effect is ruined.

Here is a partial list of unanimous motions going back to 1960, including 15 so far this year alone. Five in November. On Nov. 14, the representatives of the Québécois nation put aside their differences long enough to demand a share of federal subsidies for electric-car recharging stations proportional to Quebec’s share of Canada-wide electric car sales. Come on. I’m a big fan of the National Assembly, but these days, it’s precisely at its most solemn moments that it’s the biggest farce.

October 5, 2017

Time to update your political vocabulary for the era of Corbyn

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Spectator, Stephen Daisley provides a great crib sheet to get you up to speed with the new Corbynista words and phrases you need to understand to stay relevant in the Labour Party:

Are you considering a career in Labour politics but fear you may be left behind amid all the exciting changes the party is undergoing?

Maybe you want to be a part of the Jez revolution but can’t get your head around the ever-developing terminology.

Perhaps you are eyeing up a safe seat but aren’t sure which paramilitary cell’s endorsement would most impress the selection panel.

Help is at hand with this guide that takes you through the key terms of Corbynspeak.

Centrist dad: Anyone old enough to remember when Labour was a political party and not an evangelical tent ministry. Owns more than one pair of chinos and only uses Facebook to post ‘FFS’ with links to Owen Jones pieces. Centrist dads just don’t get how politics works in 2017. It’s all about getting people excited by promising to bring change and give them free stuff. That’s never happened before.

Jeremy Corbyn: Substitute father figure for people whose centrist dad didn’t give them enough hugs growing up.

Oh Jeremy Corbyn: The Red Flag for people who don’t know the words to the Red Flag because they only joined the Labour Party five minutes ago.

[…]

Misogyny: It has no place in the Labour Party, save the narrow exception of every woman who has ever disagreed with Jeremy ever.

Slug: Tory. The sort of heartless, racist scum who still hasn’t been convinced to vote for us.

Melt: Blairite. Worse than slugs.

[…]

Racism: Vile prejudice. Totally unacceptable. Victims’ concerns must be taken seriously.

Anti-Semitism: Well, let’s not be hasty. Probably a smear. Victims must be in league with Laura Kuenssberg.

Neoliberalism: The economic arrangements responsible for the laptops, tablets and smartphones Corbynistas use to post memes of Jezza. Also, evil.

Both sides: To blame for terrorism.

Hamas: Not to blame for terrorism.

IRA: They were like Momentum in Ireland or something, right? Pals with Jez. Slugs and melts don’t like them for some reason.

Brexit: A disastrous/progressive/uncertain move, fuelled by xenophobia/working-class discontent/many factors, and is sure to isolate the UK/break up the Brussels capitalist cartel/have an unknown impact. As such, Labour must oppose/lead/express no opinion on the matter. N.B. The party line changes from time to time, so best to avoid taking a clear position. Alternatively, take all three positions at once. Works for Keir Starmer.

September 19, 2017

In praise of ancient Greece

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, Sean Gabb explains why we owe so much today to ancient and classical Greek culture:

The Greeks gave us virtually all our philosophy, and the foundation of all our sciences. Their historians were the finest. Their poetry was second only to that of Homer – and it was they who put together all that we have of Homer, and Homer was himself an early Greek. They gave us ideals of beauty, the fading of which has always been a warning sign of decadence; and they gave us the technical means of recording that beauty. They had no examples to imitate. They did everything entirely by themselves. In a world that had always been at the midnight point of barbarism and superstition, they went off like a flashbulb; and everything good in our own world is part of their afterglow. Every renaissance and enlightenment we have had since then has begun with a rediscovery of the Ancient Greeks.

For the avoidance of doubt, I will not say that the Greeks were perfect. Though remarkable human beings – though the most remarkable human beings – they were still human beings, with all the vices and other failings that come with this. But, if you commit your life to staring into that flood of intense light that was Greece, you will not have lived in vain. And, though I do not despise translations, and would never discourage someone from approaching the Greeks only through translation, I will add that the light is most intense when seen directly, through the medium in which the Greeks themselves thought and spoke and wrote.

There are many reasons for learning Greek. A full discussion of them would amount to an advertisement for my services, and would take longer than I have available for this speech. But I will mention three.

The first is that Greek is inherently a beautiful language, and worth studying for itself alone. There is certainly a thrill to speaking it. Take this line from Homer:

    τὸν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς
    To him in answer spake the ever-resourceful Odysseus

For any number of reasons, my pronunciation is corrupt, and no Greek, ancient or modern, would think me other than a barbarian. But say these words, and you are making sounds that were first made when our own ancestors were tattooing their faces and smearing butter into their hair, before perhaps the building of Stonehenge, and when even Rome was no more than a collection of huts not far removed from the stone age.

The second main reason for learning Greek is that we know far less about the Greeks than we would like. So much has been carried away by the ravages of time. For the past six hundred years, a continuous line of scholars in Western Europe, and more recently in America, has laboured to gather and understand all that can be found about the Greeks. Every surviving Greek text has been pressed harder than olives for one of the supermarket chains to give up every possible meaning. Archaeology and all the natural sciences have been put to similar uses. In every century since the fourteenth, we have been able to say at its end that we knew more than at the beginning. But our knowledge remains imperfect. We look on the Greeks as we might on a landscape covered in mist. Here and there, the mist is absent or thinner, and we can be astonished by what we see; and we can hope to extrapolate from what we see to what remains covered.

If you come to the Greeks through translations, it is as if you are looking at that misty landscape though a sheet of coloured glass. Our word translate in Latin, and by extension in French, is traduco. This can mean translate. It can also mean dishonour, degrade or betray. Most translations, whether deliberately or by accident, do all these things to their original. Until very recently, English translators of the classics would labour to conceal the sexual tastes of the Ancients. Many translators labour still, though now to conceal the ancient taste for mood-altering substances. Even otherwise, a translation will not carry over the whole of the original meaning, but will impose on a reader the translator’s view of its meaning. Compare, if you like, my translation of Thucydides with other translations. The basic idea is the same: the choice of words and the balance and even the structure of the statement are different.

This brings me to my third main reason – and here I turn to Latin. If you take individual stories from Homer and put them into translation, they can sometimes work almost as well as they do in Greek. The story of Odysseus in the Cave of Polyphemus is wonderful in itself. So too the story of how Achilles tied the dead body of Hector to his chariot and dragged it about the walls of Troy, and how Priam came out to buy back the body. These stories thrilled me as a child, or moved me to tears. So they can in in any good retelling.

If we turn, however, to Vergil, any translation seems to involve a perceptible loss of impact. Last Easter, I taught some revision courses for A Level Classical Civilisation. One of the modules I covered was Vergil’s The Aeneid in several good English translations. Except for John Dryden’s version, this was my first experience of Vergil in translation. I have said that the translations used were good. They were made by men whose Latin was far better than mine. Compared with the original, however, they were disappointingly flat. Again and again, I would skim the text, looking for the equivalent of some line or phrase that had stamped itself into my memory. Again and again, I was disappointed by the mediocrity of what I made the students read aloud to me.

September 14, 2017

What Is The Funniest Language? – Stephen Fry’s Planet Word – BBC

Filed under: History, Humour, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 24 May 2015

Stephen Fry looks at what he thinks is the funniest language along with comedians Stewie Stone and Ari Teman. Taken from Fry’s Planet Word.

September 4, 2017

How to Pronounce UK Place Names – Anglophenia Ep 23

Filed under: Britain, Humour, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 21 Jan 2015

Anglophenia’s Siobhan Thompson teaches Science Friction’s Rusty Ward — and the rest of America — how to pronounce difficult British place names.

Learn how to pronounce even more British place names here: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2014/01/pronounce-deliberately-offputting-british-place-names/

Visit the Anglophenia blog: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia

September 2, 2017

QotD: All aboot that Canajan accent, eh?

Filed under: Cancon, Quotations, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

I was also delighted to learn that “rhotacized speech — that is, speech in which the “R” sound is somehow disfigured — tends to be amusing for English speakers.” As an English speaker with a rhotic, Canadian accent, I delight in my English wife’s non-rhotic pronunciations of “hair” (“hehhh”) and “there” (“thehhh”), and often find myself parroting her when she says them to the point where selectively rhoticizing and de-rhoticizing our speech has become a running gag in our family.

Cory Doctorow, “The true story behind the ERMAHGERD meme just makes us love it more”, BoingBoing, 2015-10-16.

August 7, 2017

How to Swear Like a Brit – Anglophenia Ep 29

Filed under: Britain, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 20 May 2015

Swearing is a fun stress reliever, and the British do it so well. Anglophenia’s Kate Arnell provides a master class in swearing like a Brit.

August 5, 2017

History of Writing – The Alphabet – Extra History

Filed under: History, Middle East, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on Jul 29, 2017

Where did the alphabet come from? How did it develop, and why? The writing systems first developed in Sumer provided a basis for the written word, but their system of characters also inspired a shift to single phoneme systems where each letter represents a distinct sound.

July 29, 2017

Latin Declensions Made Easy

Filed under: Education, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 27 Jul 2017

An explanation of what the Latin Declensions are and how they work. This video is aimed at English-speaking students with no prior knowledge of English grammar. It is deliberately slow and repetitive, and it avoids any graphics or other adornments that may distract attention from the subject matter.

If you like this video, please check out my teaching website: http://www.classicstuition.co.uk/

July 23, 2017

QotD: Australian aboriginal languages

Filed under: Australia, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Little moments like that kept adding up, incrementally nudging me away from leftism but not yet to full conversion. In 1988, watching a John Pilger documentary with lefty friends, another such moment occurred.

Pilger, as usual, was complaining about colonialism and racism and Aboriginal injustice, so naturally we — uniformly white, urban and privileged — were lapping it up. The documentary then shifted to the former nuclear testing site at Maralinga in South Australia, where seven British bombs were detonated in the 1950s and 1960s. Pointing to a sign warning of radiation danger, Pilger observed mournfully that it was written in several languages — “but not in the Aboriginal language”.

Startled by this claim, I looked around the room. Everyone was silent, including a few who had studied Aboriginal history in considerable depth, and so must have known that Pilger’s line was completely wrong. So I just said it: “There is no single Aboriginal language. And no Aboriginal language has a written form.”

I didn’t last long with that bunch of friends, either. Small note to self: my comrades will deny even their own knowledge if it runs counter to a preferred leftist version of events.

Tim Blair, “The Setting of Their Leftist Suns”, Quadrant, 2017-06-17.

July 17, 2017

Some candidates to be added to the Catallaxy Files style guide

Filed under: Australia, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

A selection of terms used at Australia’s Catallaxy Files to be considered for addition to their in-house style guide:

Allaholic Frenzy. (1) – “Display of highly agitated behaviour, often in a crowd setting. Can be triggered by almost anything that can be interpreted as disrespectful to Islam, esp. cartoon. Frequently seen in Islamic areas such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and England. Patients suffering from Allaholic Frenzy are advised to be cautious when operating machinery or motor vehicles. References. (1). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 6th Edition: DSM-6.”

Alutheran – “A forward-thinking progressive who thinks a man should be judged by the colour of his skin, not the content of their character, and who is thus supercilious and condescending towards an Alt-Racist.”

Billabonk – “Having a root next to a waterhole.”

Bolshie Ballet – “The carefully choreographed routine employed by all leftards when the hideous crimes and failures of socialism are brought up. Responses such as “but that wasn’t real communism”, “but Scandinavia” and “but outside forces” are very common.”

Dingoat.

Dodgeridoo – ‘A fake Aboriginal artefact.”

Faulty-cultural – “A multi-cultural society gone wrong which tends to occur after importing a backward 7th Century culture incompatible with your societal norms.”

Faulti-culti – “(See above). A particular culture that, once introduced, will eventually corrupt and destroy a host culture.”

Fauxboriginal – “White people who claim aboriginality based on a fraction of their DNA or ‘how they feel.”

Fauxb/Fauxbia/Fauxbic – “The dishonest and slanderous labelling of an individual who publicly questions the narrative imposed by a self-selected moral elite regarding specific favoured groups which share characteristics such as race, gender, sexual preference, religious or cultural belief. e.g. Homofauxbia, Islamofauxbia. The labelled individual is portrayed as suffering from an irrational fear, akin to a dangerous mental illness, of one or more of the favoured groups, thus consciously separating themselves from the societal ‘norm’ and voluntarily surrendering any rights, protections or privileges. This pathologising of dissent is analogous to the historical concept of outlawry, wherein an individual was legally stripped of the rights enjoyed by fellow citizens as the result of an alleged crime committed by the accused. Said outlaw could be ‘hunted’ using means not otherwise permitted by the contemporary legal system. The Post-Rational branding of an individual as a ‘fauxb’ presently submits them for hunting (by any and all persons who express an interest) in a reputational and social sense only, though Self-Elected Retributive Justice Magistrates (SERJMs, or simply RJMs) aim to progress legislation to the point where the hunting of fellow humans is again sanctioned by society as a whole, or its unelected representatives.”

July 6, 2017

English place name pronunciation for non-English folks

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I was born in England, but having been in Canada for most of my life, I don’t have an infallible key to remembering how to pronounce many English town and region names. Kim du Toit is on an extended visit to Blighty, so he does his best here to clue in all us furriners about English place names:

The town of Cirencester is pronounced “Siren-sister”, but the town of Bicester is not Bye-sister, but “Bister”, like mister. Similarly, Worcester is pronounced “Wusster” (like wussy), which makes the almost unpronounceable Worcestershire (the county) quite simple: “Wusster-shirr” (and not Wor-sester-shyre, as most Americans mispronounce it).

Now pay careful attention. A “shire” (pronounced “shyre”) is a name for county*, but when it comes at the end of a word, e.g. Lincolnshire, it’s pronounced “Linconn-shirr”. The shire is named after the county seat, e.g. the aforementioned Worcester (“Wusster”) becomes Worcestershire (“Wuss-ter-shirr”) and Leicester (“Less-ter”) becomes Leicestershire (“Less-ter-shirr”). Unless it’s the town of Chester, where the county is named Cheshire (“Chesh-shirr”) and not Chester-shirr. Also Lancaster becomes Lancashire (“Lanca-shirr”), not Lancaster-shirr, and Wilton begat Wiltshire (“Wilt-shirr”). Wilton is not the county seat; Salisbury is. Got all that?

    *Actually, “shire” is the term for a noble estate, e.g. the Duke of Bedford’s estate was called Bedfordshire, which later became a county; ditto Buckingham(-shire) and so on, except in southern England, where the Old Saxon term held sway, and the estate of the Earl of Essex became “Essex” and not Essex-shire, which would have been confusing, not to say unpronounceable. Ditto Sussex, Middlesex and Wessex. Also, the “-sexes” were once kingdoms and not estates. And in the northeast of England are places named East Anglia (after the Angles settled there) and Northumbria (ditto), which isn’t a county but an area (once a kingdom), now encompassing as it does Yorkshire and the Scottish county Lothian — which I’m not going to explain further because I’m starting to bore myself.

And all rules of pronunciation go out the window when it comes to Northumbrian accents like Geordie (in Newcastle-On-Tyne) anyway, because the Geordies are incomprehensible even to the Scots, which just goes to show you.

Now here’s where it gets really confusing.

Update: I managed to get seven of the nine (but one was a guess … a friend on the outskirts of Pittsburgh had tipped me off): Atlas Obscura on unusual demonyms. The ones I didn’t get were Leeds and Wolverhampton.

Here’s a very fun game to play: Take a list of cities with unusual demonyms — that’s the category of words describing either a person from a certain place, or a property of that place, like New Yorker or Italian — and ask people to guess what the demonym is. Here are some favorites I came up with, with the help of historical linguist Lauren Fonteyn, a lecturer at the University of Manchester. It’s tilted a bit in favor of the U.K. for two reasons. First is that Fonteyn lives and works there, and second is that the U.K. has some excellently weird ones. The answer key is at the bottom.

  1. Glasgow, Scotland
  2. Newcastle, England
  3. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  4. Liverpool, England
  5. Leeds, England
  6. Wolverhampton, England
  7. Madagascar
  8. Halifax, Canada
  9. Barbados

Demonyms are personal and vital to our conceptions of ourselves. Few things are more important to our identities than where we’re from. This explains why people invariably feel the need to correct anyone who gets their demonym wrong. “It’s understudied but it’s kind of important,” says Fonteyn, who is originally from Belgium. “I moved to Manchester and had no idea what the demonym was. And if you do it wrong, people will get very, very mad at you.”

The demonym for people from or properties of Manchester is “Mancunian,” which dates back to the Latin word for the area, “Mancunium.” It is, like the other fun demonyms we’re about to get into, irregular, which means it does not follow the accepted norms of how we modify place names to come up with demonyms. In other words, someone has to tell you that the correct word is “Mancunian” and not “Manchesterian.”

July 4, 2017

The linguistic weirdness of English

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Native English speakers tend to have difficulties acquiring their first foreign language because their mother tongue has failed to equip them with what other languages consider quite basic tools, like gendered nouns, relatively sensible quasi-phonetic spelling, and relatively stable patterns for conjugating verbs. In a post from a few years back, John McWhorter points out a few of the weird spots of English and where they came from in the first place:

English speakers know that their language is odd. So do people saddled with learning it non-natively. The oddity that we all perceive most readily is its spelling, which is indeed a nightmare. In countries where English isn’t spoken, there is no such thing as a ‘spelling bee’ competition. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words. But English is not normal.

Spelling is a matter of writing, of course, whereas language is fundamentally about speaking. Speaking came long before writing, we speak much more, and all but a couple of hundred of the world’s thousands of languages are rarely or never written. Yet even in its spoken form, English is weird. It’s weird in ways that are easy to miss, especially since Anglophones in the United States and Britain are not exactly rabid to learn other languages. But our monolingual tendency leaves us like the proverbial fish not knowing that it is wet. Our language feels ‘normal’ only until you get a sense of what normal really is.

[…]

English started out as, essentially, a kind of German. Old English is so unlike the modern version that it feels like a stretch to think of them as the same language at all. Hwæt, we gardena in geardagum þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon – does that really mean ‘So, we Spear-Danes have heard of the tribe-kings’ glory in days of yore’? Icelanders can still read similar stories written in the Old Norse ancestor of their language 1,000 years ago, and yet, to the untrained eye, Beowulf might as well be in Turkish.

The first thing that got us from there to here was the fact that, when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (and also Frisians) brought their language to England, the island was already inhabited by people who spoke very different tongues. Their languages were Celtic ones, today represented by Welsh, Irish and Breton across the Channel in France. The Celts were subjugated but survived, and since there were only about 250,000 Germanic invaders – roughly the population of a modest burg such as Jersey City – very quickly most of the people speaking Old English were Celts.

Crucially, their languages were quite unlike English. For one thing, the verb came first (came first the verb). But also, they had an odd construction with the verb do: they used it to form a question, to make a sentence negative, and even just as a kind of seasoning before any verb. Do you walk? I do not walk. I do walk. That looks familiar now because the Celts started doing it in their rendition of English. But before that, such sentences would have seemed bizarre to an English speaker – as they would today in just about any language other than our own and the surviving Celtic ones. Notice how even to dwell upon this queer usage of do is to realise something odd in oneself, like being made aware that there is always a tongue in your mouth.

At this date there is no documented language on earth beyond Celtic and English that uses do in just this way. Thus English’s weirdness began with its transformation in the mouths of people more at home with vastly different tongues. We’re still talking like them, and in ways we’d never think of. When saying ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’, have you ever felt like you were kind of counting? Well, you are – in Celtic numbers, chewed up over time but recognisably descended from the ones rural Britishers used when counting animals and playing games. ‘Hickory, dickory, dock’ – what in the world do those words mean? Well, here’s a clue: hovera, dovera, dick were eight, nine and ten in that same Celtic counting list.

June 26, 2017

What Latin Sounded Like – and how we know

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 12 Aug 2016

Classical Latin went extinct, yet we still know how to pronounce it. Proof!

Take a trip with me back to Catholic school, then back even further to old Rome. We’ll see what Latin pronunciation did – and did NOT – sound like in the mouths of the Romans. Thanks to ancient authors and modern Romance languages, we’ll even glimpse a range of evidence for the speech of Caesar and pauper alike!

SERMO VULGARIS ALL DAY LONG, am I right? 😉

June 24, 2017

How To Insult Like the British – Anglophenia Ep 12

Filed under: Britain, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Sep 2014

If you ever get into an argument with a British person, you’ll wish you’d have watched this video. Siobhan Thompson gives you the tools to sling insults like a Brit.

Here are a few other insults via the Anglophenia blog: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2012/08/the-brit-list-10-stinging-british-insults/

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