Posts Tagged ‘language’

Charting the f-word, there’s an app for that

At Fbomb.co they mine the Twitterverse for F-bomb deployments and present them in real-time on a worl map.

At Fbomb.co they mine the Twitterverse for F-bomb deployments and present them in real-time on a world map. There’s a whole lotta cussin’ goin’ on.

This item sort of blends “local lad makes good” with “what is the world coming to?” And if you dislike profanity, please steer clear, because that’s the topic.

As recounted by Michael Woods for the Ottawa Citizen, Carleton University student Martin Gingras created an app that tracks the use of the F-word on Twitter. According to the article:

The idea originated during a conversation the third-year computer science student had with a couple of colleagues while on a co-op stint at BlackBerry.

The colleagues were arguing about something, and eventually someone dropped a bad word. “It just really degraded the entire level of intelligence of our conversation really quickly,” Gingras said.

The software developers started thinking about how often people swear and how neat it would be to map that out. Gingras spent a weekend last month working on it, and an application was born.

Here’s the website for that app, FBomb.co.

I continue to be amazed at the shift in what can be said in public. Times have changed, for sure.

Case in point: we haven’t had a TV for close to 3 years. After a long spell of not watching The Daily Show, the spouse set up a way to record it via some computer magic. Now we watch episodes one day later, at an earlier time. OK, offending words are bleeped out. But wow, does Jon Stewart cuss like a sailor. (Was he always that profane?) I have to say, I think he’s overdoing it. The swearing seems excessive, like an easy crutch, replacing actual words with a few choice off-color terms, uttered with varying emphasis.

Complaining about profanity raises the risk of looking like some fuddy-duddy prude. I’ve seen both sides of that. My parents and grandparents pretty much never swore. My mom’s main cuss word was “rats!” My paternal grandmother once dropped a glass bottle of shampoo while unloading groceries from the car. It shattered across the garage floor in a swath of soapy glass shards. Lots and lots of tiny glass shards. The clean up would be a real bother. “Damn” she said. I was flabbergasted. And thrilled. (Grandmother swore!!! Amazing!)

I never swore at home but learned to cuss at school, to fit in. I cussed as a young adult, but had to keep a leash on it in case the wrong words slipped out when I worked in radio and was often live on air. The spouse and I stopped cussing once we became parents. Fine young son is grown and gone, so now we cuss again. Kind of more than I want, actually. It can sneak up on you. I’d like to dial that back.

As evidence that I am not a total wet blanket here’s an homage to proper use of the F-word [strong language warning times 50] that cracks me up every time. Does anyone know who created the voice track and the accompanying cartoon? Might be something to do with Monty Python, but I am having trouble finding source attribution.

What’s your take on swearing? Is there any point in trying to curb it now that standards have swung this far?

Language matters

O Canada in three languages, all of which matter.

O Canada in three languages, all of which matter.

When it comes to language, this much seems clear: words and language are both subject to interpretation. And language does change, for all sorts of reasons.

By chance, I’ve been running into a fair number of language-related issues recently. Case in point: in Canada, there’s a well-organized push to tweek the lyrics to the national anthem, O Canada to be more gender inclusive.

Is tweek a sufficiently neutral term? Because the pro-change camp says the original lyrics were gender neutral so theirs is but a push to restore the correct wording.

Here’s the offending line: True patriot love, in all thy sons command. Critics say it would be no trouble at all to go back to In all  of us command.

There are a couple of problems with the pro-change argument. Firstly, there seem to have been lots of versions of that song, so historical authenticity may be a weak justification. Secondly, if non-offensive, inclusive wording is the over-riding goal, there’s more “fixing” ahead, as the French lyrics use decidedly Christian imagery:

As in thy arm ready to wield the sword,
So also is it ready to carry the cross

As you can imagine, positions on this range from: never heard of it/don’t care, to it’s-fine-leave-well-enough-alone, to this-is-really-important-and-must-be-accomplished! (I will spare you the dozens of articles and editorials that tackle the subject and the arguments rage back and forth.)

The pro-change group Restore Our Anthem presents their case and tries to head off critical FAQs on this website.

Although female, my own view one some of these questions is a bit stodgy and conservative. It might sound a bit like this: since there is no pleasing everyone, don’t even try. Decide each case on merit.

Indeed, this op-ed by Jackson Doughart suggests stripping all the words to O Canada might be the only way to silence critics. He dashes off an attempt at a ‘politically correct’ version as well:

O Canada! So tolerant and grand
True liberal love, where all people can land
With growing hearts, we see thee live
The Good North quiet with glee
From far and wide
O Canada, we keep two tongues and creeds
We keep our land lovely and treed
O Canada! We give our best to thee
O Canada! We give our best to thee

Doughart says the power of O Canada is actually found in the music, as opposed to what he called the lyrical power of the U.S.’s Star Spangled Banner. (Often criticized in the U.S. for being overly militaristic.)

But I began the post by saying several examples of this type of battle had caught my eye. Here are some others: Canada’s Snowbirds are allowed to keep that name despite a complaint to the language commissioner over an English-only nickname. (The Snowbirds are Canada’s equivalent to the USAF’s Thunderbirds, a crack squad of planes that fly in tight formation.)

Uh-oh. I just saw the squadron badge emblem for the Snowbirds when I went to link a URL for this post. It appears to have an Indian wearing a feather as the central image. Which brings me to examples of language and image that become more hurtful and heated.

Here in Ottawa, a youth football team recently announced they would stop using the name “Redskins” as a somewhat reluctant nod to outside pressure.

The same back-and-forth exists for the Washington Redskins football team, with an owner who vows to defend that name against opponents who have heartfelt reasons to ask for change.

Honestly, I don’t know where to go with that. I’m white. In general, my feelings toward native people run along the lines of sympathy and respect. So if native people say certain terms are racist and disrespectful, maybe their views have to be what counts. I mean, they would know best, right?

The trouble is, where does it end? Is it enough if one person stands and says “I’m offended”? No? OK, how about one hundred people? One million? Ten percent of the nation at large? 51% of everyone? 100% of a small minority who are but 5% of the larger group? You know, is this a vote, a sensitivity contest or a matter of marketing and public relations?

To continue that line of questioning: is sexism something only women can adjudge? Are minorities the only ones who can define racism?

I recently read an exploration on the origin and meaning of the classic phrase “to call a spade a spade”, which also asked if the term was derogatory. Seemingly not, according to the history presented.

I’ve also read a similar exploration of the term “rule of thumb” and guess what? Contrary to common wisdom of today, it did not arise from some standard on the size of the rod with which one may beat one’s wife. Yet current better-safe-than-sorry advice suggests dropping phrases that have become tainted through sloppy rumor.

I can remember how some of my elders struggled to keep up with shifts in racial terms. How once upon a time “Negro” was the most polite word one could use, an advance over “colored.” To call someone “Black” when “Negro” was more refined was insulting. Some from that generation were afraid to switch to Black or African American until it became clearer which word would win out.

Meanwhile, upon moving to Canada, I ran into the term “visible minority.” Here’s an official definition: “…persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” Someone probably meant well with that construct, but it fails to settle all objections, as expressed in this commentary by Francis Woolley:

Indeed, there is something almost racist about the assumption that whites are the standard against which anyone else is noticeably, visibly different. That may be why the United Nations Council on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has asked Canada to reflect upon its use of the term visible minority

Even if “visible minority” goes the way of Negro, good luck finding new terms that satisfy all!

Perhaps everything is happening just as it should? Words don’t go on some electoral ballot to be voted up or down. But we all vote – everyday – with our own choices for use and meaning.

When it comes to language, how do you gauge what’s offensive or not?

“The” before a road name: how come?

Source: WordPress

Source: WordPress

For those of you who missed last week’s kick off of the new “how come?” feature at All In, here’s the deal: you ask a question about the region, we post it here, and solicit answers from others in the community.

For example, last week, we had a question about Amish in the north country. We had a real expert weigh in on that one, Karen Johnson Weiner.

This week, our question comes from Donica Margaret via our Facebook page. She asks:

“How come people here call a road “the” whatever road? As in, Suzie lives in the green house on The Smith Road (instead of just Smith Road). My husband and I aren’t from here and I find it to be so…odd? My husband, a fluent French speaker, assumes that it’s a French influence (e.g., la rue).”

Where we come from, Bill is holding those turkeys on The Maple Ridge Road. Right?

Where we come from, Bill is holding those turkeys on The Maple Ridge Road. Right? Photo: Ellen Rocco

Then, someone pointed out that this custom seems to apply only where it’s a road name–the “the” is not there when we refer to a route or an avenue.

And, Gary Pierce wrote, “Good one, Donica. I’ve lived here all my life and never realized that until someone from Buffalo pointed it out to me. Example, I tell people I live on “the” Harper Road, where as my friend says I live on Harper Road.”

While I grew up in Manhattan, I’ve lived here long enough to have adopted the “the” custom. I definitely use it when speaking about the road someone lives on. Always. The only example of an anomalous “the” that I can think of from my childhood is “The” Bronx. None of the other boroughs have a “the” — it’s stand alone for Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.

I searched briefly to see if I could find out why The Bronx has a “the.”Couldn’t find a definitive answer, but I’m guessing that it has something to do with being named after The Bronx River. Maybe? Here’s a link to The Bronx Historical Society’s page.

Okay, I don’t think we’ve really answered the “the” question. I’m going to see if our word friend, Grant Barrett of “A Way With Words” can help us out.

Stay tuned…or post your theory below. And, remember, we’re looking for your questions–from the trivial to the deep and meaningful. It’s all good. Email those questions to ellen@ncpr.org and we’ll see if someone can answer them.

Swearing across cultures: The beaver said what?!

This phrase was once taboo in polite company in England, being a corruption of “God’s body!”

Here’s one about potential traps strewn across unfamiliar cultural landscapes.

As recounted by the National Post, a French author and a French publishing house with a popular series of  children’s books set in Quebec got it wrong – very wrong – in terms of appropriate language for young readers.

Heads up! Swearing ahead – as found in chapter 4, page 28 of La rivière sans retour:

“Taberna-a-a-cle!” the beaver hollers, uttering a swear word that in Quebec is roughly as offensive as the f-word in English. The author of the book aimed at 6- and 7-year-olds helpfully includes a footnote explaining that tabernacle is a “Québécois word indicating surprise.”

Ah, yes. As his canoe was swept away in the rapids, the happy young beaver was … surprised!

Cuss words vary by culture, don’t they? Anyone from this region probably knows this topic (and the important words) well enough. For outsiders like me, the Post article contains a helpful side bar about other religion-based profanity, and the relative level of offense.

Meanwhile, what happens to swear words if/when the whole reason such use is offensive fades from memory? Even respectable museums have picked up on this topic, as when Le Musée Des Religions Du monde presented “Tabernacle: The exposition that curses”.

An earlier National Post article examined the cultural shift that prompted the exhibit:

At the Musée des religions du monde (Museum of World Religions) in Nicolet, about 110 kilometres northeast of Montreal, Jean-Francois-Royal is regularly struck by the widening gulf between Quebecers and their Catholic heritage. “We are at the point where we have a generation of students who ask, ‘Who is the guy on the cross?’ ” Mr. Royal, the museum’s director, said.

Writing in The Johnson (a blog featured in The Economist, named for dictionary-maker Samuel Johnson) “M.D./Ottawa” asks “If you profane something no one holds sacred, does it make a swear?

The post begins with nostalgia:

One of the formative experiences of my youth was being taught how to paddle a four-man racing canoe during summer visits to my French-speaking cousins at their cottage north of Quebec City. To keep in sync, paddlers would sing. And the favourite song of my male cousins, which I would roar with great gusto while not understanding a word, started like this:  “En hiver, calvaire! Ça glisse, calisse!” Only much later did I realize these lines, which translate as: “In winter, Calvary! It’s slippery, Chalice!” were not to be repeated in front of adults, as both calvaire and calisse were swear words in Quebec.

I can relate! Anxious to fit in and speak “good” pidgin English in Hawaii, I picked up a few choice Portugese swear words, without knowing how strong they were, or why they could offend. They just sounded, well, pointedly useful! (All that when my own parents never went farther than “rats!” or – if really provoked “damn!”)

Even so, some words probably don’t belong in books for 6 year-olds!

When you explore new places or learn new languages, how do you handle the identification – and use – of cuss words?

How to talk North Country

Grant Barrett’s visit to the region brought home to me the importance of the connection between how we talk and who we are. You will know us by our accent. It’s the way we determine who is us, and who is them.

But just what makes up the North Country accent? Or is it accents? Is there a formulary of rhythms, grammatical constructions, pronunciation shifts and so forth that define the sound? How far does it reach? Can it be defined? Can it be taught?

That’s a boatload of questions. But let’s make a start with a catalog of signature North Countryisms, things we do with language that, taken together, might help us zero-in on the local lilt.

I’m interested in everything from the anecdotal to the academic, and look forward to a broad-ranging chin-wag on the topic we all keep on the tip of the tongue.

We’ve visited this topic in the past. To help start the conversation, here are some features from the Way-Back Machine discussing North Countryisms and place names.

Heard up North: Pronouncing Theresa (The Town)

Heard up North: Chateaugay, Eh?

Heard Up North: 3 Words (The Particular Language of the North Country, Cont.)

Heard up North: “Went Up!”

Heard up North: Yupper! (& Beaver Meadows)

Heard up North: Slab City, Sodom, and Swastika

Heard up North: Place Names “Negro Creek”

Heard up North: Haws, We Gotch Ye

Heard up North: How the North Country got its name

You say potato, I say potahto

Mr Potahto Head

Barb Heller passed this around NCPR last week. I had not seen it before, so I thought some of you might have missed it as it made the digital rounds. Lots of fun. I think we should have the NCPR staff record it. What do you think?

It’s worth a read out loud:

If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. (Keep in mind this comes from a British source, so pronunciations may vary a bit from our common usage.)

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Fe0ffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to just give up!!!

English Pronunciation by G. Nolst Trenité

Source: The Poke