steepholm: (Default)
I mentioned on Facebook the other week that one of my pet marking peeves this year (they operate on a strict rotation basis) is the habit of saying "it could be argued that X", rather than simply "X". It always strikes me as evasive, a way of saying "I'm going to float an idea, and if you agree with it I'll take the credit, but if you don't then I wasn't advocating it, okay?"

Thanks to [profile] stormdog I just saw the perfect illustration of this tactic, although not using that exact phrase, from Nigel Farage - who I bet scattered "It could be argued that" all over his school essays. It's in this article about the reaction to the London bombings on Fox News. Were internment camps a good way to go, mused the incisive analysts of Fox? (For the benefit of those reading outside the UK, no mainstream British politician - by which for this purpose I mean a politician from a party with more MPs than zero - has suggested it.)

Who better to ask than Nigel Farage? Like one of my bet-hedging students (Farage was a professional bet-hedger when he worked in the City, trading commodities, and the instinct is still strong) Farage doesn't call for internment. He says (of people on police watch lists) "if there is not action, then the calls for internment will grow" and, "unless we see the government getting tough, you will see public calls for those 3,000 to be arrested".

Did he just call for internment? Of course not - how dare you suggest such a thing! He was merely acting as a commentator! (Unless it happens, and then he'll be able to say he was brave enough to float the idea.)

And then of course, along comes Katie Hopkins of the Daily Heil like the organ-grinder's monkey, repeating his sentiment but minus the hedge, proving Farage's words true in the process: “We do need internment camps.” What a double act!

A few people on Facebook were bemused by my dislike of "It could be argued that", implying that it was perhaps a bit over the top. This is why I try to drum into people that it's a cowardly and dishonest tactic, whether you're talking about the date of a sonnet or the best reaction to an atrocity.

Nigel Farage uses it, for heaven's sake!
steepholm: (Default)
Japanese words often have a wide range of meanings. For example, there's ataru (当たる): I've cut and pasted this from my flashcard program (Memrise - I recommend it). I could have inserted punctuation in the relevant places, but I think the effect is conveyed more feelingly without it:

ataru = to be hit
to lash out at to be affixed to apply to to be a hit to be afflicted to be selected (in a lottery, etc.) (in baseball) to be hitting well (of fruit, etc.) to be bruised to be equivalent to to lie (in the direction of) to undertake to be applicable to be assigned to face to go well to be successful to be stricken (by food poisoning, heat, etc.) to be on a hitting streak to be in contact to confront to be right on the money (of a prediction, criticism, etc.) to treat (esp. harshly) to be unnecessary to be called upon (by the teacher) to touch to spoil to win to strike to check (i.e. by comparison) to probe into (in fishing) to feel a bite to shave to feel (something) out


I especially like words where the meanings include ones that are antonyms or (better still) near antonyms of each other, such as hitting and being hit, or to be successful and to be stricken. Of course, it sends my mind back to English, which has no shortage of similar artefacts, even in this semantic area. To be touched or struck could be a good or disastrous thing, depending largely on who's doing the touching - a god, the heat, elves (as in elf-stroke), genius.

As ever, a big part of the appeal of learning Japanese (and no doubt any language) is to make oneself more aware of the peculiarities of one's own word-weathered mind, carved as it is into eccentric peaks and whorls by the constant swirl of linguistic currents.

The other day, I imagined (or remembered?) an Addams Family cartoon in which Morticia is discovered sprinkling dust over the furniture, and responds to an enquiry, "Oh, I'm just doing the dusting". "To dust" is one of my favourite auto-antonyms, perhaps because it's such a simple-looking, common word. Who cares whether "cleave" means the opposite of itself, when we don't often use it in either sense? But dust? That gets under one's skin.
steepholm: (tree_face)
Or, to transliterate that: 警察の生活は嬉しくないですね! "A policeman's lot is not a happy one"

That popped into my head as I walked by Romsey's suitably Trumptonish police station this morning. I was interested to find how neatly Gilbert's pentameter converted into an iambic fourteener - although the translation isn't perfect, "生活" being closer to "way of life" than to "lot", which ought perhaps to have some overtone of being a hand dealt by fate. Oh well, shouganai...

Translating random sentences is fun, and probably also a useful exercise, but it's not the same as original composition. Today, I tried to put my ambivalence at being here in early spring (my favourite season) yet not being in Japan as I have been for the last two years into haiku form:

庭を見て
桜と水仙は
変な出会い

niwa wo mite
sakura to suisen
henna deai

Look in the garden
Cherry blossom and daffodils:
A strange encounter.
steepholm: (Default)
Or, to transliterate that: 警察の生活は嬉しくないですね! "A policeman's lot is not a happy one"

That popped into my head as I walked by Romsey's suitably Trumptonish police station this morning. I was interested to find how neatly Gilbert's pentameter converted into an iambic fourteener - although the translation isn't perfect, "生活" being closer to "way of life" than to "lot", which ought perhaps to have some overtone of being a hand dealt by fate. Oh well, shouganai...

Translating random sentences is fun, and probably also a useful exercise, but it's not the same as original composition. Today, I tried to put my ambivalence at being here in early spring (my favourite season) yet not being in Japan as I have been for the last two years into haiku form:

庭を見て
桜と水仙は
変な出会い

niwa wo mite
sakura to suisen
henna deai

Look in the garden
Cherry blossom and daffodils:
A strange encounter.

Baby steps, yet - but I'll try to do more, and better.
steepholm: (tree_face)
#1: when you give blood at Antwerp University, you get free entertainment from a giant drop of blood, who dances around in front of your already-dazed eyes:

IMG0273A

I can't decide whether or not this is a good thing.

#2: when the Belgians decide to erect a monument to the characters in a book hardly anyone there has heard of, they make a very good job of it:

IMG0278AIMG0282A

#3: When this monument precipitates Korean and Japanese tourists, the Fish and Chip shop round the corner takes on a new dimension, offering panko and tenpura options, and a kimchi side.

#4: When they want to advertise the university, they dress the academics as superheroes (centre-stage is my friend Vanessa, who invited me to talk to her conference on Wednesday):

IMG0295A

#5: In Luxembourg, if you're too tired to boil and decorate your own Easter eggs, you can buy them ready-boiled and painted. Probably someone will eat them for you too, for a price:

IMG0298A

(Also, there is almost certainly a charming story behind this statue in Luxembourg City, but I've no idea what...)

IMG0297A

#6: Finally, it turns out that my brain will only hold a maximum of two languages at a time. Since arriving in Abroad I've done my best at least to make an effort, language-wise, although Flanders and Luxembourg both being notorious nests of polyglotism it was never going to be more than a token one, and it's not as if I knew any Dutch to begin with. However, whenever I try to pull my school French out from the lumber room of my mind I find it's buried under a huge pile of conversational Japanese. I can get at it eventually, but it takes time - rather too much time in a country where everyone's already on a hair trigger to switch to English at the first sign of linguistic ineptitude. I've already thanked someone in a supermarket with 'Arigatou' and, truth be told, a few 'Hai's and 'Daijoubu's may also have escaped the fence of my teeth.

Still, the main business - being patron for a travail de candidature (don't ask) - went off smoothly, though in circumstances that were also rather tragic, for reasons I can't go into here, because it's not my story to tell.
steepholm: (Default)
#1: when you give blood at Antwerp University, you get free entertainment from a giant drop of blood, who dances around in front of your already-dazed eyes:

IMG0273A

I can't decide whether or not this is a good thing.

#2: when the Belgians decide to erect a monument to the characters in a book hardly anyone there has heard of, they make a very good job of it:

IMG0278AIMG0282A

#3: When this monument precipitates Korean and Japanese tourists, the Fish and Chip shop round the corner takes on a new dimension, offering panko and tenpura options, and a kimchi side.

#4: When they want to advertise the university, they dress the academics as superheroes (centre-stage is my friend Vanessa, who invited me to talk to her conference on Wednesday):

IMG0295A

#5: In Luxembourg, if you're too tired to boil and decorate your own Easter eggs, you can buy them ready-boiled and painted. Probably someone will eat them for you too, for a price:

IMG0298A

(Also, there is almost certainly a charming story behind this statue in Luxembourg City, but I've no idea what...)

IMG0297A

#6: Finally, it turns out that my brain will only hold a maximum of two languages at a time. Since arriving in Abroad I've done my best at least to make an effort, language-wise, although Flanders and Luxembourg both being notorious nests of polyglotism it was never going to be more than a token one, and it's not as if I knew any Dutch to begin with. However, whenever I try to pull my school French out from the lumber room of my mind I find it's buried under a huge pile of conversational Japanese. I can get at it eventually, but it takes time - rather too much time in a country where everyone's already on a hair trigger to switch to English at the first sign of linguistic ineptitude. I've already thanked someone in a supermarket with 'Arigatou' and, truth be told, a few 'Hai's and 'Daijoubu's may also have escaped the fence of my teeth.

Still, the main business - being patron for a travail de candidature (don't ask) - went off smoothly, though in circumstances that were also rather tragic, for reasons I can't go into here, because it's not my story to tell.
steepholm: (tree_face)
I've been trying to remember (without looking it up) at what point in my lifetime certain kinds of takeaway restaurant became commonplace in the UK. By "commonplace" I don't mean "available somewhere in the country" but "available in a typical mid-sized city" - say, a Derby, a Southampton or a Swansea.

This is my impression (but remember I lived my first 18 years in a small market town, so my knowledge is limited):

Common from before I was born: Fish and Chip shops, Chinese takeaways

1960s on: Indian takeaways and other curry houses

Around 1975-80: American-style hamburger and pizza places (Wimpys had been around longer than that, but seems a bit different in my mind, and not that commonly encountered)

1980s: Kebab houses

1990s on - everything else.


Is that reasonable? Have I left anything out, or got anything badly wrong? Remember, I'm not talking about London or the other really big cities - and of course cities with large immigrant populations from a particular country would probably have that country's food ready in takeaway form earlier.

Also, when did people start saying "to go" instead of "to take away" in this country? My impression is that this Americanism started in coffee shops like Starbucks and spread from there, which would put it the early years of this century. Do you agree?

And, on a different topic, have you noticed that "tsunami" has now almost entirely replaced "tidal wave" in common usage? It was not always so! On the other hand, I sense that "rickshaw" is being edged out by "tuk tuk", so the tide of Japanese-origin words is not entirely unchecked.
steepholm: (Default)
I've been trying to remember (without looking it up) at what point in my lifetime certain kinds of takeaway restaurant became commonplace in the UK. By "commonplace" I don't mean "available somewhere in the country" but "available in a typical mid-sized city" - say, a Derby, a Southampton or a Swansea.

This is my impression (but remember I lived my first 18 years in a small market town, so my knowledge is limited):

Common from before I was born: Fish and Chip shops, Chinese takeaways

1960s on: Indian takeaways and other curry houses

Around 1975-80: American-style hamburger and pizza places (Wimpys had been around longer than that, but seems a bit different in my mind, and not that commonly encountered)

1980s: Kebab houses

1990s on - everything else.


Is that reasonable? Have I left anything out, or got anything badly wrong? Remember, I'm not talking about London or the other really big cities - and of course cities with large immigrant populations from a particular country would probably have that country's food ready in takeaway form earlier.

Also, when did people start saying "to go" instead of "to take away" in this country? My impression is that this Americanism started in coffee shops like Starbucks and spread from there, which would put it the early years of this century. Do you agree?

And, on a different topic, have you noticed that "tsunami" has now almost entirely replaced "tidal wave" in common usage? It was not always so! On the other hand, I sense that "rickshaw" is being edged out by "tuk tuk", so the tide of Japanese-origin words is not entirely unchecked.
steepholm: (tree_face)
I realise this isn't the most significant aspect of today's events, but while there's been a lot of ink spilled on Donald Trump's style of speechifying, it was only today that I noticed how consistently he glosses his own words. He says something in relatively normal political language, and then he adds a demotic equivalent, often in a different tone of voice, as if interpreting himself to a slightly hard-of-hearing companion.

Thank you very much. Sorry to keep you waiting. Complicated business. [Complicated]

Thank you very much. I've just received a call from Secretary Clinton. She congratulated us [it's about us]

on our victory, and I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign. [I mean she fought very hard.]

Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely. Now it's time for America to bind the wounds of decision. [We have to get together.]


Well, now I've noticed it I dare say I'll carry on noticing for the next four years.
steepholm: (Default)
I realise this isn't the most significant aspect of today's events, but while there's been a lot of ink spilled on Donald Trump's style of speechifying, it was only today that I noticed how consistently he glosses his own words. He says something in relatively normal political language, and then he adds a demotic equivalent, often in a different tone of voice, as if interpreting himself to a slightly hard-of-hearing companion.

Thank you very much. Sorry to keep you waiting. Complicated business. [Complicated]

Thank you very much. I've just received a call from Secretary Clinton. She congratulated us [it's about us]

on our victory, and I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign. [I mean she fought very hard.]

Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely. Now it's time for America to bind the wounds of decision. [We have to get together.]


Well, now I've noticed it I dare say I'll carry on noticing for the next four years.
steepholm: (tree_face)
Yesterday one of my Japanese language partners asked me about the "故事" (koji) used in English. What are koji, you ask (as I did)? Apparently they are "idioms derived from historical events or classical literature of China". Did British history yield many idioms in common use?

I have to admit, my mind went blank. It's easy enough to come up with idioms swiped from literature, notably Shakespeare, but history? Most English idioms seem to come from common experiences, crafts and professions, the natural world, and so on. They don't tend to involve famous people or events - or, if they do, they don't stretch beyond a single word (Canutian, anyone?). The best I've come up with so far is "met his Waterloo".

There are some from the classical world - which stands to Britain much as classical China to Japan: "cut the Gordian knot", "Caesar's wife", or even "a cobbler should stick to his last". I could probably think of a few more, but it's still surprisingly thin pickings.

It's not that my mind is badly stocked with interesting facts and anecdotes (many of questionable veracity) about British and classical history, but that they've somehow failed to morph into idioms. We know about Alfred and the cakes, for example, or Robert the Bruce and the spider, but there isn't any common idiom derived from either encounter that might be muttered by people in similar circumstances.

Is there a rich vein of such sayings that has somehow slipped my mind? I would of course be happy to hear suggested examples!
steepholm: (Default)
Yesterday one of my Japanese language partners asked me about the "故事" (koji) used in English. What are koji, you ask (as I did)? Apparently they are "idioms derived from historical events or classical literature of China". Did British history yield many idioms in common use?

I have to admit, my mind went blank. It's easy enough to come up with idioms swiped from literature, notably Shakespeare, but history? Most English idioms seem to come from common experiences, crafts and professions, the natural world, and so on. They don't tend to involve famous people or events - or, if they do, they don't stretch beyond a single word (Canutian, anyone?). The best I've come up with so far is "met his Waterloo".

There are some from the classical world - which stands to Britain much as classical China to Japan: "cut the Gordian knot", "Caesar's wife", or even "a cobbler should stick to his last". I could probably think of a few more, but it's still surprisingly thin pickings.

It's not that my mind is badly stocked with interesting facts and anecdotes (many of questionable veracity) about British and classical history, but that they've somehow failed to morph into idioms. We know about Alfred and the cakes, for example, or Robert the Bruce and the spider, but there isn't any common idiom derived from either encounter that might be muttered by people in similar circumstances.

Is there a rich vein of such sayings that has somehow slipped my mind? I would of course be happy to hear suggested examples!
steepholm: (tree_face)
Damn you, kanji! I just tried to write "kumamoto no jishin" (熊本の地震, Kumamoto earthquake), got one letter wrong and ended up with "kuramoto no jishin" (蔵元の自信 - i.e. "self-confidence of the brewery").

Japanese is full of traps for the unwary. My other regular from earlier in my Japanese study was "henji wo arigatou" (返事をありがとう "Thank you for your reply"), which for some reason I actually wrote "henshi wo arigatou" (変死をありがとう "Thanks for the unnatural death").

Aubergines cropped up a lot in those early emails, too.

Always proofread, people!
steepholm: (Default)
Damn you, kanji! I just tried to write "kumamoto no jishin" (熊本の地震, Kumamoto earthquake), got one letter wrong and ended up with "kuramoto no jishin" (蔵元の自信 - i.e. "self-confidence of the brewery").

Japanese is full of traps for the unwary. My other regular from earlier in my Japanese study was "henji wo arigatou" (返事をありがとう "Thank you for your reply"), which for some reason I actually wrote "henshi wo arigatou" (変死をありがとう "Thanks for the unnatural death").

Aubergines cropped up a lot in those early emails, too.

Always proofread, people!
steepholm: (tree_face)
[I just posted this in the linguaphiles community, but it may interest some here.]

I've been trying to think of other contemporary English constructions that work like "to blame" in the sentence, "Who is to blame for this mess?" - where there is an implied passive (i.e. "who is to be blamed?").

So far, I can't think of any good examples. The nearest I've got is "to thank", albeit it sounds a little archaic: "Who is to thank for this mess?"

Interestingly, while this sounds semi-acceptable where "thank" acts as an ironic synonym for "blame", as in the above example, to my ear it sounds less so when used unironically: "Who is to thank for the lovely bouquet I found on my desk this morning?" This leads me to wonder whether its semi-acceptability in the negative example derives from a kind of semantic resonance with "to blame".

Anyway, I'd be interested in further examples or thoughts on this in general.
steepholm: (tree_face)
If I mark in a café I'm always rather grateful when the people at the next table speak in a language I don't understand, as it's less distracting. (The marking is why I've not been posting here recently, by the way - but I'm almost done now.)

Anyway, I was happy when a couple of middle-aged Polish women sat nearby this morning. Except that they then started throwing random phrases of English into their conversation. "Chaos theory", said one, in the midst of an otherwise impenetrable sentence. My ears pricked up. "Climate change", rejoined the other a few minutes later with a knowing chuckle. Of course, I couldn't help listening out after that - perhaps more than I would have had I been able to understand every word.

I'm used to this sort of thing when I'm in the presence of Welsh, but I've never had it before from a Slavic language. I hope the quality of my marking didn't suffer too much.
steepholm: (Default)
If I mark in a café I'm always rather grateful when the people at the next table speak in a language I don't understand, as it's less distracting. (The marking is why I've not been posting here recently, by the way - but I'm almost done now.)

Anyway, I was happy when a couple of middle-aged Polish women sat nearby this morning. Except that they then started throwing random phrases of English into their conversation. "Chaos theory", said one, in the midst of an otherwise impenetrable sentence. My ears pricked up. "Climate change", rejoined the other a few minutes later with a knowing chuckle. Of course, I couldn't help listening out after that - perhaps more than I would have had I been able to understand every word.

I'm used to this sort of thing when I'm in the presence of Welsh, but I've never had it before from a Slavic language. I hope the quality of my marking didn't suffer too much.
steepholm: (tree_face)
I was very surprised to see that the OED's earliest entry for "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" is as late as 1888, with "anticlockwise" making its appearance a few years later.

I'd looked them up because I was musing on words like "widdershins" and "deasil". These two have always seemed an odd pairing. One's Germanic, the other Gaelic: one refers to the direction of the sun, the other to turning right. Although they are functional opposites, they get to the same (or in this case opposite) result via different workings and from different starting places too. What happened to their "true" opposites - the Germanic word meaning in the same direction as the sun, and the Gaelic word meaning turning left?

Also, neither is very common, and "deasil" in particular is a pretty rare word, so what (I asked myself) did people used to say before "clockwise" and "anticlockwise" came in, which obviously couldn't be before clocks with dials were invented? And, I added, did changing from the sun to a mechanical device as a way of orientating oneself ("orientating" is itself an interesting word in this context) reflect some wider epistemic shift from nature to technology as a source of reliable truth? I was expecting "clockwise" to show up some time around 1680. I couldn't imagine Robert Hooke not using it.

But I was 200 years out, and now I wonder what people were saying in the centuries between. Did they really have no use for the concept? How could you invent the steam engine or mine pumps or mass-produced screws without being to able to convey it - let alone walk round a church in a propitious direction?

(Of course I had to look it up in Japanese, where it turns out that clockwise is 右回り (migimawari - i.e. turning to right) and anti-clockwise is 反時計回り (hantokeimawari - i.e. turning against the clock). In other words, it exactly reproduces the inconsistency to be found in widdershins and deasil.)
steepholm: (Default)
I was very surprised to see that the OED's earliest entry for "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" is as late as 1888, with "anticlockwise" making its appearance a few years later.

I'd looked them up because I was musing on words like "widdershins" and "deasil". These two have always seemed an odd pairing. One's Germanic, the other Gaelic: one refers to the direction of the sun, the other to turning right. Although they are functional opposites, they get to the same (or in this case opposite) result via different workings and from different starting places too. What happened to their "true" opposites - the Germanic word meaning in the same direction as the sun, and the Gaelic word meaning turning left?

Also, neither is very common, and "deasil" in particular is a pretty rare word, so what (I asked myself) did people used to say before "clockwise" and "anticlockwise" came in, which obviously couldn't be before clocks with dials were invented? And, I added, did changing from the sun to a mechanical device as a way of orientating oneself ("orientating" is itself an interesting word in this context) reflect some wider epistemic shift from nature to technology as a source of reliable truth? I was expecting "clockwise" to show up some time around 1680. I couldn't imagine Robert Hooke not using it.

But I was 200 years out, and now I wonder what people were saying in the centuries between. Did they really have no use for the concept? How could you invent the steam engine or mine pumps or mass-produced screws without being to able to convey it - let alone walk round a church in a propitious direction?

(Of course I had to look it up in Japanese, where it turns out that clockwise is 右回り (migimawari - i.e. turning to right) and anti-clockwise is 反時計回り (hantokeimawari - i.e. turning against the clock). In other words, it exactly reproduces the inconsistency to be found in widdershins and deasil.)
steepholm: (tree_face)
David Cameron described himself today as "battling for Britain".

Deliberately or not (I guess the former) he was echoing Margaret Thatcher's 1981 description of her efforts to sell weapons to the wahhabist regime in Saudi Arabia as "batting for Britain". He was also, undoubtedly deliberately, echoing Churchill's "Battle of Britain". Is that a great note to strike if you wish people to vote Yes in the referendum?

Batting, battling - what's in an 'L'? Orwell described sport as war without the bullets; Peter Gabriel (riffing on Orwell) suggested that the Euro gameshow Jeux sans Frontières (which I sorely miss) was "war without tears". (Was Médecins Sans Frontières a riff on that show? If so, it's a reference lost to most today.)

When I was young, Jeux sans Frontières and the Eurovision Song Contest were the two main ways in which the continent of Europe was made visible to the British public. (Not so! There was also Van der Valk.)

Meanwhile, Emma Thompson has described Britain as "a cake-filled misery-laden grey old island" - surely an oxymoron?

And Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng has commented: "Emma Thompson does not know what she is talking about. We are about to become the biggest economy in the world" - surely a moron?

This could be a long summer...

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