Friday, 30 January 2009

The future's bright. The future's pedantic.

Today I was helping a dyslexic kid in an English lesson. The lesson was on Macbeth and the students were summarising the main plot points on a chart. A kid asked what the verb form of prophecy was. (As in "the witches ________ that Macbeth will be king.") Now, I'm supposed to stick to my own one-to-one student in this lesson but, word geek that I am, I can't resist an opportunity to show off my vocabulary. However, before I could speak, the teacher - a pretty good teacher as it happens, one of the few decent types in this school - answers with 'prophesize' and goes to write it on the board. The cardinal sin as a teaching assistant is undermining the teacher, but I couldn't let this lie. I couldn't do it. In another lesson, maybe, but not English. So I piped up with "No such word!" The kids turn around,interested. "I'm sorry, sir, but the word is prophesy (pronounced prophes-eye). Prophesize isn't a word." Now to the guy's credit, he tried to be kind to the poor deluded woman challenging his omniescent English knowledge. "Well, in the dictionary, it says..." I was up, out of my seat, the poor kid who can neither read nor write much more than his own name was on his own now. I took a look over the teacher's shoulder. I said, like him, as kindly as I could "Wiktionary isn't very reliable. Try the school dictionary." he looked it up again online, this time on Wikipedia. Again, not necessarily right, which you'd think a graduate and qualified teacher would know. I stole a dictionary from a handy kid and proved my point. He was very gracious about it, but looked uncomfortable.
I must have apologised about 10 times for my pedantry and my big mouth, went on about how widespread the misconception was. etc etc. I always feel bad doing this sort of thing, but in the end an English teacher tried to teach a non-existent word. I must have seen 20 spelling and grammar errors taught by teachers in the last month. Given the number of days I didn't work (I'm on supply), that's over one a day. Only a few, where I felt I knew the teacher would be ok with it, did I correct. And even then I felt bad. The ones I left made me feel worse, though. It's like having an unscratched itch.
At the same time I love it when people coin new words. After all, we revere Shakespeare as the ultimate writer and he was always at it. Those ex-colleagues of mine who read this will have probably heard the excellent Roy-ism 'dudify' ('doodify'?) - meaning to make something higher quality/more flashy (more 'dudey' i.e. cool)- usually applied to geography presentations. I still use 'dudify' regularly, there are probably kids all over the city who think it's a real world. But in an English lesson, when a kid ASKS for a word, even when studying the number one English neologist (is that a word? It is now...), well sorry, but the pedant gene kicks in.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

A load of tripe

"You know you've got an image problem when your name has come to mean something worthless or rubbish."
i heard this when I turned on the television this evening and thought that I'd tuned into something about homophobic bullying and the word gay. I actually gotquite excited about my pet grievance making primetime BBC One. But no,it was the woman on the One Show (a show more middle of the road than a dead hedgehog) talking about tripe.
Tripe is apparently cow's stomach. I've never met anyone who's eaten and enjoyed it, but given my predeliction for haggis, I'd probably give it a go. I do have to say, watching Hugh Grant being made to pretend to like the stuff on live TV was well worth the license fee.
However, I'd like to see the word tripe replace the word gay in the under 30s vernacular.

"Yo man, that's well tripe."
"That's some tripe-assed shit."

but it doesn't need to stop there. What's wrong with a retro slang craze? Bring back ripping, jolly and top-hole! Get teenagers asking 'are you squiffy, blud?'Apart from anything else, it'd give the ASBO generation something in common with their grans.
I'm going to use the word tripe as much as possible. Please do the same.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

When is an ethnic slur a cool nickname? Thoughts on creative reclaimation.

A kid at a school I was working in asked me if I was Jewish the other day. Fair enough, and he was about 20% right, but the context was that he was trying to find something to ridicule. It was a bit creepy to hear Jewish used with that level of disgust. A lot of Muslim kids I know are raised with an antipathy towards Jews, which i try to counter by pointing out that 'Israeli Government Policy' /= 'Jewish Ethics'. This kid wasn't Muslim though, he just thought it would be risible if someone in the room was Jewish.
Then I wondered if he was Jewish himself and was doing some kind of relcaimatory humour that missed the mark. Would that have made it ok? if the kid had been called Moishe Gubelstein, would I have been as creeped out?

My wife is a Ragu-Jew, AKA a Pizza-Bagel, i.e. a person of Italian/Jewish descent. We enjoy making up similar names for other friends of mixedd heritage, or working out what their kids would be called. A Jewish/Puertorican couple we know are 'Jeruselatino', A chinese lady with a scottish husband I saw on masterchef had actually MADE won ton haggis. this is crying out to be a racial nickname. But the liberal guilt reflex in me leaps up here and says "You can't ascribe some woman you don't even knw a racial nickname! You racist!" My racial heritage is so boring that i can't play the game myself. What would I call it? 'A big pile of bland mashed potato with maybe a latke or two buried very deep in there'? It doesn't work, really.
So does my bland racial heritage exclude me from making racial jokes, is reclaiming by proxy ruled out? I just like playing with words. Being told there is a whole area where it's taboo to do this makes that area all the more attractive. So please, those of you with honest to goodness interesting racial mixes, go out and give yourself a creative nickname. It's fun, and nobody can yell at you for it!
Put them in the comments box! Or is that racist of me to ask? Excuse me. I'll just go and implode now.
Maybe I should have called this blog 'internal struggles with liberal guilt'.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Isms, ites and ologies.

Just a thought.

Thatcherism: the political and economic policies advocated by Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, especially as contrasted with those of earlier Conservative leaders.

Blairism: the policies and intellectual approach of Tony Blair

Bushism refers to a number of unconventional words, phrases, pronunciations, malapropisms and semantic or linguistics errors that have occurred in the public speaking of former United States President George W. Bush and, before that, of his father George H. W. Bush a former United States presiden

Doesn't that say it all? I'm not a fan of Thatcher, and Blair turned out to be a 'disappointment' (as a certain former president might say). But at least the isms they left behind them refer to policies and ideologies, not the inability to get a sentence out.

what I'm wondering is what Obama's ideology will be called.
Obamaism? Clunky.
Obamism? Uncomfortably close to Onanism if you ask me.
Obamite? Sounds like something you put on your toast, or maybe a biblical tribe: "And yea, the Obamites did go forth from the land of Canaan..."
I've seen Obamology used, albeit disparagingly on a slighgtly unhinged right wing site, but i have a feeling that this is the one that will catch on. You read it here first.


Bush is gone. The English language will be waterboarded by the White House no more.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Nounage and Verbage

A little linguistic quirk I've noticed lately is the practice of using nouns as verbs and vice versa. It occured to me yesterday that the name for this must surely be 'verbing' and 'nouning' which is itself a 'verbation' of the words 'verb' and 'noun'. Nounation is also possible, but rarer. Maybe it should be called deverbation.
On the whole, I'm not a fan, mainly because the biggest culprits...sorry...pioneers of this seem to be middle management types.
I'll just example this now:

Verb as noun: "It's a big ask"
Literal meaning: "Somebody is asking for a lot."
Actual result: "This company is making completely unfair demands on its workforce and needs to make the sudden surge in workload sound better"

Noun as verb: "We need to action this."
Literal meaning: "We need to do this"
Actual result. "We need the higher ups to think that this is more important and impressive than it is by using a longer word than "do".

Verb as noun: "This is a go."
Literal meaning: "Go."
Actual result: "I'm giving you a direct order, but I want it to sound like I'm just providing information as to what the situation is, so that you don't feel you can challenge me on it."

As big an irritate as this trend is to me, I think it's time to increment it in everyday speech (sorry, should that be speak?).
In fact I've encountered it in its purest form: my wife, when searching for a word, substitutes the word 'thing' with 'do'. as in 'Pass me that...handbaggy-pursey-do' This may be a contraction of words like do-dah, doofer, etc. but it's still the ultimate verbation.
And if verbation isn't already a word, is it too big an ask that we all start actioning it in every day life?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

You Gay Spacker Chav!

If you work with teenagers, you hear the title of this post, and variants of it, a lot. Language changes. Words shift in meaning. There are no young romany homosexuals with cebebral palsy at any of the schools I have visited. 'spacker' means a stupid or incompetent person. 'gay' refers to general worthlessness. 'chav' means tacky and low class. I can cope with wicked meaning both morally bad and cool. I can cope with cool meaning both impressively hip and cold. I can cope with get the idea.
And to be honest, I grew up with a generation that thrust its tongue over its teeth into its lower lip and flailed its arms erratically to denote stupidity. I do it involuntarily. the other day I crashed a supermarket trolley into a bollard and suddenly, I'm making the "spacker face"- to nobody! It was just my immediate, self deprecatory reaction! It's not big or clever, no. But it doesn't mean I'm not cool with people with cerebral palsy. I am. It just means I have a bad habit, which I learned when I was about 5.
As for chav, I am reliably informed that it is a Romany word for young person, so chav, like 'Pikey' as an insult is basically calling someone a 'dirty gypsy', a la Enid Blyton at her best. I don't think it's cool to do this, for preference I prefer the term 'Kevs' for what most people call chavs (maybe that's more classist than racist, but there you go). However, chav is universal now, and I use it. And I do like Moon Chavs by Jay Foreman, despite the fact that it advocates wiping a social/racial group from the face of the earth, because it's funny.
So why do I get all up in arms every time I hear 'that's so gay' and variants? Gay used to mean cheerful, fun or brightly coloured - for a while, it was a euphemism for prostitution ('gay girls' was like 'loose women' in Victorian times) - and eventually it came to mean anyone not straight, including trans and bi people. Then it narrowed down to gay men, sometimes including lesbians dependant on context. Then, like spacker and chav, casual bigotry made it an insult.
So, am I just a hypocrite, offended by 'gay' because I am gay, and willing to let 'spacker' and 'chav' slide, because I'm not.... a spacker chav?
This is the issue. If i had cerebral palsy or was a gypsy, I'd say 'I have cerebral palsy' or I'm a gypsy'. I MIGHT call myself a crip, or a spacker, or a chav, or a pikey, same as I call myself a dyke or a lezzer sometimes: in a joking, reclamatory context. If I say 'I'm gay', I'm not reclaiming. I'm using the RIGHT SODDING WORD! If you want to be homophobic, fine, but use slang. There's a wealth of it out there. Apart from homo, queer, fag, faggot, battyman, dyke, lezzer, lesbo, rugmuncher, cocksucker, arsebandit, fudgepacker, lettucelicker, jessie, etc etc, there are the more subtle ones like bugger, and saying that something sucks (I'm assuming this is originally short for 'sucks dick', thus handily insulting sexually active gay men AND sexually active straight women. Yay!)

Bigotry isn't cool. But telling someone they can't use a word MAKES it cool. You think we weren't told not to mock people with cerebral palsy? We were. Daily. It just added to the power of words like 'spazz' and 'spacker'. Being wildly inappropriate and in bad taste is one of my greatest pleasures, smug in the knowledge that I'm being ironic and that really I know better. but gay... sorry. That's taken. It means gay.


Monday, 12 January 2009

Oh Prince Harry, Granddad must be so proud!

Despite his being the spitting image of James Hewitt, I think we can lay all questions surrounding Prince Harry's parentage to rest. That kid shares significant genetic material with Prince Philip. The foot-in-mouth gene just skipped a generation.

I mean... referring to a (sleeping) fellow officer as 'our little Paki friend'... It's at least on a par with Prince Philip's memorable pearl of advice to british students in China: 'Don't stay here too long, you'll go all slitty-eyed'. It's Charles I feel sorry for. The poor bloke actually seems to possess some sensitivity... must be a recessive gene...

I mention the fact that Harry's 'friend' Ahmed was asleep for a reason. Love Prince Philip or hate him, one thing he isn't is duplicitous. if he wants to know if African people still throw spears, he comes right out and asks them. Yes, it's uncouth, naive, un-P.C... but it's fundamentally honest.
What Harry did wasn't friendly army banter between equals. He wasn't saying. 'Oi, Ahmed, you Paki!' in a jovial and irreverent way. He was mocking someone he evidently regarded as inferior (hello, "little friend"? Even without the 'Paki' in there, it makes him even more of a condescending upper class twit than you might expect), and effectively, he was doing it behind Ahmed's back for the amusement of his other (white) friends. Also, no, random guy I heard on Radio 4 this morning, It is not the same as you being called 'Taffy' because you're Welsh. Paki, is not like Jock, Taffy, Paddy etc. these are racist labels, yes, with a history of oppression behind them, yes, but they don't have the clout as an insult that words like Paki and nigger have, words that have been used in conjuction with CONTEMPORARY racial hate crimes. Words that were the last thing victims of racial murders heard as they lost conciousness. That is the difference.
I'm not even starting on the homophobic stuff. A girl's only got so much spleen to vent. Of that more later.

Bloggy Goodness

So, this is a new blog. I wanted a receptacle for my rants and rambles on the subject of all things linguistic. Especially pollitical correctness and insults.
From 'that's so gay' as an insult to 'it's political correctness gone mad' as a euphemism for 'wahhh! it's not fair: I used not to get called on being a bigoted old fuck!' Also, when is it O.K. to 'ironically' use P.I. language? If I offend anyone, I hope they'll comment and get into a discussion with me. I'm really interested in which people find what offensive. Do people with cerebral palsy use the word 'Spacker'? How do Romany people feel about 'chav'? What about the use of 'girl' as a signifier of weakness in men? Am I really the only one seething?
Hopefully I'll update more regularly than has been my wont on other blogs.
Word Geek