By Lambert Strether of Corrente
And now for something completely different. Because I’ve had it up to here with the election, at least for today, I’m going to provide three reference works so you can burnish your language skills, which is a subtask for burnishing your critical thinking skills. For each reference work, I’ll link to it, see what they have to say about themselves, give an example of their work, and then apply the example to contemporary politics.
Home Page: Language Log. Language Log is notably coy about its actual purpose; the About Page is about the history of the blog’s servers. So I’m falling back on the Comments policy:
Be relevant. Language Log is our site, where we write about whatever we want. Our main concern is for the quality of experience for our tens of thousands of readers. As a commenter, you are a guest, and should comment on the content of the post you’re commenting on. If you want to write about some other topic, do it on your own blog.
And “whatever we want” seems to be mostly uber-nerdy language topics; the current front page includes posts for AI panics, Advances in tuba-to-text conversion, Another fake AI failure?, Apostrophe in Hebrew, Aravrit, “Arrival” gets the wug treatment, Dialect death, Chinese transcriptions of Donald Trump’s surname, Inflection in Georgian and in English, Language vs. script, “Mixed” languages, …”such matters as Opinion, not real worth, gives a value to”, and Using animal images to cast aspersions. Lots of material with contemporary relevance there!
But I want to link to this site for one concept in particular: The post on snowclones (sightings listed here). A snowclone is a phrasal template:
At last a suitable name has been proposed for the some-assembly-required adaptable cliché frames for lazy journalists that have received occasional discussion on Language Log (here, in the first instance). I mean formulae like these (where the N, X, Y, Z are filled in to taste):
If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z.
In space, no one can hear you X.
X is the new Y.
Glen Whitman, who discussed this topic on Agoraphilia, taking his cue from the first example, proposes calling these non-sexually reproduced journalistic textual templates by an appealingly simple name: we can call them snowclones.
Hearing no other nominations, I now hereby propose that they be so dubbed. The clerk shall enter the new definition into the records.
Since we have a record of the exact time at which Glen hit Send and transmitted the new term to me (the first person to read it), lexicographers are in luck here: they can date the coining of snowclone to the second. So they may like to note for their future reference that this term was coined at 22:56:57 (that’s 3 seconds before 10:57 p.m.) on Thursday, January 15, 2004, in Northridge, California.
Nerdy! So you will see why I was so pleased to see alert reader anonymous in Southfield, MI spotting a snowclone in the wild. Slightly modified:
I have identified a motif that pretty much always gives away a Hillary bot- it was used about several dozen thousand times as part of ‘Correct the Record’ during the runup to November 8. And here we have it again. It goes like this: I was always in favor of [Person P] until I found out [Truth T].
Perhaps Correct the Record has a three-ring binder full of snowclones. Or they’re written up on whiteboards near the phone pits. Incidentally, there’s no reason you can’t adapt snowclones to your own purposes, or invent new ones. Snowclone activism!
Home Page: Silva Rhetorica. Here’s how the site describes itself:
This online rhetoric, provided by Dr. Gideon Burton of Brigham Young University, is a guide to the terms of classical and renaissance rhetoric. Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest (the big picture) of rhetoric because of the trees (the hundreds of Greek and Latin terms naming figures of speech, etc.) within rhetoric.
This site is intended to help beginners, as well as experts, make sense of rhetoric, both on the small scale (definitions and examples of specific terms) and on the large scale (the purposes of rhetoric, the patterns into which it has fallen historically as it has been taught and practiced for 2000+ years).
A forest is the metaphor for this site. Like a forest, rhetoric provides tremendous resources for many purposes. However, one can easily become lost in a large, complex habitat (whether it be one of wood or of wit). The organization of this central page and the hyperlinks within individual pages should provide a map, a discernible trail, to lay hold of the utility and beauty of this language discipline.
(Long time readers may be familiar with “Julia Gillard and the Art of Rhetoric” (2014), which uses the tools provided by Silva Rhetorica). The site also lists the disciplines it serves: Biblical Studies, Classical Studies, History, Humanities, Legal Studies, Literary Studies, Rhetoric and Communication Studies, and Social Sciences. Not unuseful, especially when you remember that figures of speech and narratives crafted in all those fields have endured for thousand of years.
Here’s one entry that may be of interest. Synedoche:
A whole is represented by naming one of its parts (genus named for species), or vice versa (species named for genus).
The rustler bragged he’d absconded with five hundred head of longhorns.
Both “head” and “longhorns” are parts of cattle that represent them as wholes
Listen, you’ve got to come take a look at my new set of wheels.
One refers to a vehicle in terms of some of its parts, “wheels”
“He shall think differently,” the musketeer threatened, “when he feels the point of my steel.”
A sword, the species, is represented by referring to its genus, “steel”
Or from the present day:
Those #BernieBros are the absolute worst!
The whole is Sanders supporters; the part is those Sanders supporters who happen to be bros. Of course, the interesting question is why that part was chosen for the job of representing the whole. Eh?
Closely allied to synecdoche is metonymy, “reference to something or someone by naming one of its attributes.” Metonymy is often used in identity politics (“one of” its attributes) as opposed to intersectionality (which permits, or should permit, reference by multiple attributes).
Home Page: TV Tropes. Unlike the other two sites, TV Tropes is a wiki, so you could add your own material. I like it because I haven’t watched TV — except for occasional sightings in public settings like airport lounges — and so I need a place where I can check cultural refernces. Here’s how they introduce themselves:
Merriam-Webster defines trope as a “figure of speech.” For creative writer types, tropes are more about conveying a concept to the audience without needing to spell out all the details.
The wiki is called “TV Tropes” because TV is where we started. Over the course of a few years, our scope has crept out to include other media. Tropes transcend television. They reflect life. Since a lot of art, especially the popular arts, does its best to reflect life, tropes are likely to show up everywhere.
Here’s an example: The Loveable Rogue trope:
A person who breaks the law, for their own personal profit, but is nice enough and charming enough to allow the audience to root for them, especially if they don’t kill or otherwise seriously harm anyone. It helps that none of their victims are anyone we know or that they’ve made sure the audience knew they were jerks, which makes it “okay” to steal from them. For extra points, he may even give some of his takings to the poor. The most legitimate way to make this trope work is by making the rogue a Justified Criminal who steals only to survive in an uncaring world that leaves him with no other option, ESPECIALLY if the laws are unfair and benefit a select few at the expense of others including the rogue.
Han Solo is an example of a Loveable Rogue:
Loveable Rogue: Han seems to be so lovable that all the pretty rotten things he has done seem so justifiable that they don’t seem to sink in.
A smuggler and scoundrel from the planet Corellia, and captain of the Millennium Falcon, one of the fastest ships in the galaxy, who was hired by Obi-Wan to provide him transport to Alderaan. Initially only aiding the Rebellion to pay off his debt to Jabba the Hutt, Han proves his heroism and becomes a leader of the Rebels.
Now, I picked Han Solo for a reason. Scott Adams:
My best guess is that the public is primed for Trump to act presidential because it fits the “bad boy turns good” movie we all have in our heads. Everyone likes Han Solo, the tough talker with the heart of gold. Trump is making that movie-like transition now, but don’t expect him to go easy on Clinton. The Clinton attacks will be vicious, but Trump’s overall vibe will still trend (spottily) toward presidential. That will give both sides plenty to talk about.
There’s disagreement! TV Tropes says Han Solo is a Loveable Rogue, and Scott Adams says he’s a “Bad Boy Turns Good.” Well, that’s the humantiies for you. Anyhow, if you want a compendium of “the movies playing in our heads,” TV Tropes is a good place to start.
I was actually going to look at a fourth site, Know Your Meme, but the moderation queue is so large that it demands my attention. So consider bookmarking these three (plus one) sites, and see if you, too, can spot rhetorical techniques, snowclones, and TV Tropes in the wild. MIx ’em, match ’em, share ’em with your friends!
Hilarity is the new hilarity!
(I see what you did there.)
Make that Hillrelevant.
That is both a semantic pun, as in the Hill inside the Beltway, and a linguistic pun, as in H Clinton affectedness. The positive versus negative connotations are ambiguous as well. Full Marx for your class conscious analysis.
Sorry. That is a hard meme to follow.
Is language humanity’s funnest tool, or what?
Literacy is the new literacy.
You just want us to learn Russian so we can serve your Kremlin masters better.
Well, you must know the websites he’s promoting are covert propaganda vehicles. Lambert [AKA Badinoff, Boris] is initiating our training program. After introducing us to these seemingly innocuous, rather pedantic sites, he will gradually draw us towards less savory, more damaging fare….. until we are helplessly ensnared.
Within ~18 months we will be spouting rancorous agitprop in comments sections across the web, delivering propaganda payloads to defenseless mainstream websites like the WaPo, the New York Times and the Onion. Dampening their cultural impact, damaging their raison d’etre, and generally Lowering the Tone of American Discourse.
If I’m going to be a Russian stooge, I demand to be handled by a foxy agent with a name like Svetlana Hotluvia.
Why aren’t you at your post?
… and don’t forget, weakening confidence in our leaders.
Hitting such a small target requires patience and precision!
I’m reading a Mussolini biography at the moment and thought this quote relevant:
“Mussolini quickly became a brilliant popular journalist. He developed a style — unlike the traditional style, which was dominated by the concept of elegance which usually meant convoluted sentences expressed in lofty language. His sentences were short, concise, emotional and written in simple language. ‘Oh, if it were possible to strangle it…verbose, prolix, inconclusive, eloquence…’ he said. His aim in his writing — and his speaking — was to strip away ‘all that is decoration, frippery, superficiality, annulling all the flotsam of fifteenth centuryisms, all vain chit-chat’. Insult, sarcasm and ridicule were frequent weapons in his verbal armoury: nauseating, imbecile, cretin, paranoid, mental deficient, revolting reptile — the kind of words used.” (from Mussolini by Nicholas Farrell)
Mooseolini was a fellow traveler along with Hemingway in the Radical Writers Collective. Foreshadowing Madison Avenue, their motto was “Less Is More.” Both were the product of an unsettled and violent period in history. Both writers came to violent ends.
It was indeed a fascinating period. Ezra Pound was a dedicated Fascist who supported and helped TS Eliot and James Joyce. Pound, like Mussolini, loved Dante. DH Lawrence lived in Fascist Italy and Futurism and Dadaism were linked to Fascism. At the time, Fascism was a better choice than liberal democracy for many people. It’s not always black and white.
Salazar in Portugal was a fascist of sorts who started off as an accounting professor, and whose policies quite explicitly rejected racism.
Calling Salazar’s Portugal anti-racist is profoundly (willfully?) ignorant. Their treatment of their colonial subjects in Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea Bissau was horrendous and parasitic. Massive amounts of wealth were extracted, and none remained on the continent except what was necessary to facilitate further extraction. Africans in those colonies were among the least educated at independence, largely due to a barely existent education system which was restricted to those racially “pure” enough. Fascist Portugal, unlike Britain and France, refused to turn over its colonies to indigenous control, necessitating long and deadly wars of independence in all three countries (wars which NATO was happy to fund and support for Portugal). The Portuguese fairy tale of racial equality and cooperation provided a feel good gloss on an indefensible reality.
The sites aren’t “keen”, I’d say they are “peachy”
Steve’s alter ego?
Or is peachy keen anti-Georgian?
Would that be alt-right ego or alt-left ego?
You meme they don’t have peaches up in the antipodes ??
The San Francisco Public Schools now offer bilingual education, in, get ready for it–
” In response to a growing number of Arabic- and Vietnamese-speaking students in The City’s public schools, the San Francisco Unified School District is considering offering classes in those languages beginning in the 2017-18 school year.
Three Board of Education commissioners on Tuesday will introduce a resolution that would pave the way for the district to create Arabic and Vietnamese World Language Pathways, adding the languages to the list of nearly a dozen others already taught in classrooms through multilingual programs.
World-language pathways are designed for students to develop competency in a second language in addition to becoming fully proficient in English. The target language is taught from 30 to 60 minutes a day, three to five days a week in elementary, middle and high schools.
The program differs from the SFUSD’s immersion program, in which classes such as math, social studies and language arts are often taught in the pathway language.
The district currently offers world-language pathways in three languages in elementary school: Tagalog, Italian and Japanese. Courses are also available at the middle and high school levels in Spanish, French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hebrew and Russian.
Per the resolution, Arabic- and Vietnamese-language classes would potentially be taught in kindergarten through 12th grades.
“We believe it’s important to recognize, celebrate and teach the language, culture and history of our Arabic and Vietnamese communities,” said Matt Haney, the board’s vice president and a co-author of the resolution. “These are two of the largest … communities in our city that don’t have either language or cultural programs in our schools.”
Arabic has never before been taught in the district, while Vietnamese has only been offered to students through a short-lived support program more than 25 years ago, said Christina Wong, special assistant to the superintendent for the SFUSD.
“We’re trying to be as responsive as possible to the community needs,” Wong said.”
San Francisco Public Schools have been, are and apparently will be a laughable disaster for yet another generation. What’s not mentioned here is the absurd lottery system that sends kids who live right next to a school all the across town for “diversity” enrichment.
Parent’s have to drive them or put them on the public bus system with homeless lunatics sleeping in pools of diarrhea and vomit.
And they wonder why there’s white flight? What about all the tech bro hipsters? They’ll leave when they have kids.
So you’re saying that it’s better for people to only read English so that they accept their masters’ lies with less hesitation. Your American Exceptionalist perspective is showing.
Sounds like a wonderful opportunity for your kids to learn a second language, which is not only good for the brain, but a career advantage. And if they learn Vietnamese they can pick the good stuff off the menu themselves. What’s your beef?
You are correct if you assume the regular education in English there is on par or even one half of what you got as a child. Multigenerational American kids “graduate” from SF schools quasi-literate.
What these programs do, as witnessed by four families we know, is take away even more real academic instructional time from kids, resulting in white American kids who speak a few phrases of Chinese that no Chinese shopkeeper will even acknowledge. Meanwhile their writing and language skills in English are abysmal and they tread water in trendy social ideas and the latest jargon then graduate with useless diplomas that mean years of community college if they ever hope to reach university.
One thing that the SF schools produce is some of the most hard core social survivors who go forth with an absolute hatred of every message and philosophy that the so called progressives in San Francisco espouse. 6 out of 7 of the twenty year olds that we know who graduated from S.F. high schools are fanatical Trump supporters.
“Sound Like” … but isn’t. It’s just yet another incarnation of the cross-disciplinary conslutant flim-flam designed to hide the steadily more mediocre academic results whose root cause is from making “academia” a mass education.
In Denmark, they have this great idea that business / engineering schools should teach in English to be more “international”, however, the professors in engineering or business are not necessarily good language teachers and the students still have to master the real course work, they don’t get grades for their English (They do get graded down for not being able to express themselves properly).
The results so far have been a double-barreled failure: Poorly executed “core work” and bad English skills.
Adding dedicated English-, Chinese-, ….language classes, to the curriculum would have worked on both problems – but – this would have cost money, conflicting with the “we can always do ever more with the same resources”-approach to public finance.
The fail is spreading to the top: My wife speaks better English than the Danish Foreign Minister – She took proper classes in Oxford, he obviously “learned on the job” and basically sounds like a real nincompoop.
You are not being cynical enough here. Mandarin immersion and other such programs are used by goodwhite and Asian families to segregate themselves from poor blacks and Latinos, often within the same school. But don’t get me wrong, children learning multiple languages is great for the development of their brains. And so the goodwhite parents can maintain a facade of multi-culti political correctness all while shielding their children from the cultural problems associated with the poor folk.
Ni hao, Ma, and Pa
What the community needs is to be fluent in English. I took three languages during my school years. I quite liked it. But any curriculum that interferes with achieving English proficiency is severely limiting for students and undermines social cohesion.
“Social cohesion” is a great rhetorical construct, it unifies the far left and the far right in their struggle against the far center. I recommend it highly.
How on earth is this remotely on topic? Was “language” in the headline the trigger word? Did you read the post?
It was a response to another comment above and somehow ended up in the wrong place. The comment was by:
November 27, 2016 at 1:36 pm
Know your meme is a great site for deciphering internet jokes. Especially visual ones like pepe the frog.
I would also nominate Urban Dictionary for anything you’ve heard a millennial say and not quite understood. Like swipe right.
Don’t forget Roger’s Profanisaurus!
I would quibble, if I may about the “Lovable Rogue” versus “Bad Boy Gone Good” controversy. Indeed, the basic definition of lovable is to see the inner ‘goodness’ in a person and celebrate that. Basic anti original sin thinking. Hence, a “Lovable” rogue cannot be bad. The bright shining soul of perfectibility shines through; bad is banished. Since this comes into conflict with the basic original sin philosophy of the Neoliberal order, it must be suspect and countered. So, a Neoliberal Han Solo must either travel from Good to Bad, or discover and embrace his inner sin nature.
The actor who portrayed the real Han Solo on celluloid, Harrison Ford, can be seen to be working out this very problem in his work in Mike Nichol’s retelling of the Cinderella story, “Working Girl.” He and the Cinderella actress’s, Melanie Griffith characters, work on Wall Street. The film is a Neoliberal panegyric, if you will. To add insult to injury, for the more tender hearted, the end credits song was “The New Jerusalem.”
It’s just as well that Karma doesn’t possess nuclear weapons.
Leaving this here, as the original comments on the proporn article are in the dust – wikipedia editing cranks up the gears, with some comments on NC/
Sagecandor is the main editor, but only registered 18 Nov. Knows the system.
Thank you for the links, Lambert – lots there to keep us occupied!
Re TV and film tropes: we’ve noticed some of these more easily since Netflixing came into our lives a year or so ago (if I’ve grasped the concept of tropes properly, that is). A couple of examples off top of head:
Film or a TV series episode begins, there’s a short opening scene, then the message “3 months later” or “6 months earlier” or suchlike appears. Sometimes similar message will appear again, at some point later in the plot. This can be confusing to simple minds like mine, as the tale progresses. ” Just show us the story in chronological order why don’t ya?!”
Another – an old one but becoming more obvious to us because we now watch more stuff: character fumbling around out of his or her geographical comfort zone – e.g. cowboy-type or westerner in eastern urban setting, person from deep south in a northern state, New Yorker forced to live in rural small town, etc.
I’ve never heard the verb of netflix before. My first thought was Netflix and Chill but I don’t think that is where you were going.
It seemed to me to be a natural transformation: proper noun to verb, though probably not strictly allowed in polite circles. You were correct – I really wasn’t going there. :)
Eclectic but I find this http://www.victorianweb.org a thought-provoking and improving (Victorians were very keen on self-improvement) resource.
Lambert, Thanks for the references to language sites. They helped me get my mind off the Golden Trumpet.
Okay, you mentioned Han Solo. This picks at the scab of one of my pet peeves — the Parsec is a unit of distance, not speed or velocity. George Lucas and J.J. Abrams: you got some ‘splaining to do.
Yes, the science in science fiction has gone way downhill since “2001” and “Destination Moon.”
“Star Wars” is fantasy, mythopoetic fantasy true, but non standard, natural sciences wise.
Sheesh. Sounds in space??? Ships with obvious gravity generation capabilities using impulse power to move about? Kirilian fighters that don’t glow in the dark? Midichlorians that don’t terminally disrupt the ATP cycle? I agree with you Vatch. Lucas, cut us some slack.
The retconned explanation is that all ships in Star Wars travel at the same FTL velocity. The difference in ‘speed’ is caused by the ability of the navigational computer to handle the minute math of traveling close to navigational hazards. The Kessel Run is a route littered with black holes, to get through it quickly you need a computer that can handle the calculations that allow traveling closer to the black holes. Thus running it faster means traveling over less distance.
In the original Star Wars it was almost certainly Lucas thinking parsec had something to do with seconds, so time. Abrams doubling down on it by referencing it in the new movie is probably because he understands the long established fan-explanation.
But will future generations tolerate Star-splainin’?
Okay, Han Solo shot first!
Star Wars is a space opera, we can accept some loose joints here and there as long as it Entertains. All of it is made up bullshit anyway and that is the idea!
But, here we are, all the ret-conning and the rubbing away any slight or blemish on the Vast Interlect of George Lucas The Great Artisan and Philosopher pisses ME off.
Similar to that other George, Soros – Get over it. You are NOT a philosopher, so please Stop It (or at least go to a good university and study philosophy).
“He shall think differently,” the musketeer threatened, “when he feels the point of my steel.”
A sword, the species, is represented by referring to its genus, “steel”
I always thought that it was a give away that the story was about a gay triangle….
I always thought of a “gay triangle” as being that famous Warner Brothers cartoon; “The Dot and the Line on a Plane.”
(As any well read mathematician or physicist understands, a “gay triangle” can only be described in terms of Non Euclidian geometry. This is no mere hyperbole.) I hope that I have “made my point” without any missing pieces. Parallels are hard to find.
My all-time-favorite Language Log posts – themes, really, since both have multiple posts attached to them by now – are Geoff Pullum’s epic takedown of shlock-thriller author Dan Brown’s work [e.g., archives/000844.html], and the debunkings of bestselling author Louann Brizendine’s “The Female Brain” claims [e.g. “men only use X words per day whereas women use 2X, on average”.]
Re Silva Rhetorica:
Since this is apparently Pedanticism Day, here’s hoping that all the NC readers who make a habit of using the phrase “begs the question” will stop by Silva Rhetorica and find out what petitio principii really means.
I think I’ll just leave this here:
Slashdot wins the internet *and* the grammar nazis! I saved the following comment from that lofty site lo! these many years ago…
Re:Fun Read? (Score:5, Funny)
by earlymon (1116185) Alter Relationship on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:38AM (#27826527) Homepage Journal
Kindly have the decency to identify us correctly by our Sacred Relic – Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, First Edition.
I hope you did not mean for us to lump us in the Later Editioners – who eat off of their bellies, when there are perfectly good tables about for use of that function.
In any case, your abbreviation of the Holy Name of our Sacred Relic may well have been alleviated by the acceptable, yet colloquial (although arcane), use of et cetera, hereby illustrated as per Rule 2, as you are but no doubt aware of so to do: Stunk and White, etc.
(And yes, I thank you in advance for the opportunity of scoring points with my peers to compact my typography by ending a sentence with the abbreviated form of et cetera, thereby saving a full period. My deep appreciation is also given for the bonus points scored as well that the word period preceded it’s synonymously named punctuation mark in the previous sentence. It is for this alone that I defer to kindness and not rag upon the lack of calendar year reference, similarly missing.
After all, a good Grammar Nazi is never a quibbling Sematics Nazi, nor worse, a Syntax Nazi (this last reference having been given, quite naturally, with highest reverence to the ghosts of alt.syntax).) *
Kindly remember, and please never forget: if something can be said with few words, it’s worth saying very well; therefore, it worth saying with a great many words, in order to be at one’s best, if for no other reason. (N.B., it is well and good that initiates question the validity of verbosity over being succinct, as an object lesson that the admonishment for clarity overrides.)
In closing, I am further compelled to compliment you upon the quite deft class-naming used for our gathering place, indicating, as it does, this modern forum while simultaneously not excluding Usenet, that is, as goes without saying, our one true Kobol, with the codex modification as it applies, naturally, to the mythology presented only in the contempory BattleStar Gallactica.
* Note the parenthetical salvation of the egregious Usenet syntax error had the sentence been constructed to end thus: alt.syntax.
Pathological kinda promises Path + Logical – but instead, you get stuck with pathetic.
Grammar Nazi? Don’t you mean…Alt Write?
According to a Wired article, a visit to TVtropes teaches one three things:
1. Originality is dead.
2. Nobody misses it.
3. You’ve just blown six hours.
Typo: you dropped the first c in synecdoche.
But thanks for these sites, and the laughter (or hilarity) that ensued!
Just a (maybe) interesting sidelight. The Jesuit school I went to (11 – 18, but I was only there 15-18 … phew!) named its age years after parts of language structure – Rudiments, Grammar, Syntax, with the last, most advanced, being Rhetoric, each with a lower & and an upper year. Not for nothing are some forms of argumentation labeled `Jesuitical’ as a term of both praise and abuse.