Peachy

Standard

With all the appropriate nods to how I speak and what it sounds like

Peaches
Peter Davison
A mouthful of language to swallow:
stretches of beach, sweet clinches,
breaches in walls, pleached branches;
britches hauled over haunches;
hunched leeches, wrenched teachers.

What English can do: ransack
the warmth that chuckles beneath
fuzzed surfaces, smooth velvet
richness, plashy juices.
I beseech you, peach,
clench me into the sweetness
of your reaches.

Translation lie

Standard

Another of those times we (or at least I) must accept the lie and limitations of translation. I can look at the Polish original and glean what I think the meaning and ultimate English-language translation should be, but ultimately it could go so many ways. I fed this infernal despair and frustration with translation years ago by immersing myself in language study so that I could create reasonable simulacra of translations. Never ended up particularly happy with these seeming facsimiles or even with comparative studies of existing translations.

Yet, at the same time, I want people to see and read these works, even in translation, because there are so many works in the world that just scream out to be read!

Gratitude (links to a different translation, which might be useful for comparison’s sake)
Wisława Szymborska
I owe a great deal
to those I do not love.

The relief with which I accept
they are dearer to someone else.

The joy that it is not I
who am wolf to their sheep

Peace unto me with them,
and freedom with them unto me,
and that is something that love cannot give
or contrive to take away.

I do not wait for them
from window to door.
patient
almost like a sundial,
I understand
what love does not understand,
I forgive
what love would never forgive.

From meeting to letter
passes not an eternity
but merely a few days or weeks.

Travels with them are always a success,
concerts heard,
cathedrals visited,
landscapes in sharp focus.

And when we are separated
by seven mountains and rivers
they are mountains and rivers
well known from the map.

It is thanks to them
that I live in three dimensions
in a space non-lyrical and non-rhetorical,
with a horizon real because movable.

They themselves do not know
how much they bring in empty hands –

“I owe them nothing,”
love would say
on this open question.

Here’s the original if you’d like to put your skills to work deciphering its code and interpreting its meaning and unveiling it in English as well.

Podziękowanie
Wisława Szymborska

Wiele zawdzięczam
tym, których nie kocham.

Ulgę, z jaką się godzę,
że bliżsi są komu innemu.

Radość, że nie ja jestem
wilkiem ich owieczek.

Pokój mi z nimi
i wolność mi z nimi,
a tego miłość ani dać nie może,
ani brać nie potrafi.

Nie czekam na nich
od okna do drzwi.

Cierpliwa
prawie jak słoneczny zegar,
wybaczam,
miłość nie wybaczyłaby nigdy.

Od spotkania do listu
nie wieczność upływa,
ale po prostu kilka dni albo tygodni.

Podróże z nimi zawsze są udane,
koncerty wysłuchane,
katedry zwiedzone,
krajobrazy wyraźne.

A kiedy nas rozdziela
siedem gór i rzek,
są to góry i rzeki
dobrze znane z mapy.

Ich zasługą,
jeżeli żyję w trzech wymiarach,
w przestrzeni nielirycznej i nieretorycznej
z prawdziwym, bo ruchomym horyzontem.

Sami nie wiedzą,
ile niosą w rękach pustych.
“Nic im nie jestem winna” –
powiedziałaby miłość
na ten otwarty temat.

Image (c) Stephen Donaghy

Subtitled entertainment – Language realism on TV

Standard

As a person who often multitasks while “watching” television, I don’t always pay close attention to every moment of action. (That is, I hear all the dialogue but don’t always catch the visuals going with it.) Particularly with some of the dumber shows I watch, such as The Following or The Slap, this does not bother me much. I pay closer attention to shows I enjoy. But then there is a growing middle category: subtitled entertainment.

When I watch a foreign (non-English-language) film, I already know there will be subtitles, and I don’t watch something like that until I am ready to focus. But television is starting to introduce more and more subtitled content. In a sense it’s an era of language realism. In most films and TV of the past, we’d be treated to unrealistic and frankly stupid dialogue in which the actors (English speakers) adopted some kind of vaguely similar regional accent representing the place they were supposed to be from… and very little of the actual local language would appear.

Now, in a further change to content development – language is adding to the realism of many TV shows. The Americans probably leads the way, with a liberal mix of English and Russian. An article has even been written on how the writers decide when to use Russian. Hint: The choice comes down to authenticity. In The Americans, it makes perfect sense. Russians working within a Soviet institution in the United States are not going to speak to each other in English.

Another show where the blend makes perfect sense is the US version of The Bridge. It takes place on the US-Mexico border, and US police and working closely with Mexican police.

It has appeared more and more in various shows recently, such as Allegiance and The Blacklist. Interesting, it appears in shows in which the plot involves a lot of international intrigue. No big surprise. Language realism also appears in shows like Jane the Virgin, in which the grandmother speaks exclusively in Spanish, but understands English perfectly. She always speaks Spanish with her daughter, Xiomara, and granddaughter, Jane, but they almost always answer her in English.

The same kind of mix has appeared in Netflix’s Lilyhammer. An American organized criminal, exiled in witness protection in Lillehammer, Norway, navigates Norwegian language and society – the longer the show goes on, the more it’s conducted in Norwegian, mirroring the main character’s “integration” (which never quite happens fully).

These are all one-hour dramas, and somehow the language realism feels more expected in that setting. But it’s also happening more and more in the half-hour sitcom format, which feels strange in that I can’t imagine people having the attention span required to read the screen. But strangely – they do. The best example of this I can come up with is Welcome to Sweden, in which a fairly typical American guy moves to Stockholm with his Swedish girlfriend. His comical trials feature prominently – often in Swedish (particularly interactions with his in-laws). I did not even think about it when I recommended it to someone who only speaks English. He was going to watch it using my Swedish Netflix account, which did not offer subtitles in English.

It seems remarkable that as foreign language is receiving less emphasis than ever in US schools, language and culture diversity is appearing in a bigger way than ever on America’s TV shows. And it has jumped from just the occasional bit of Spanish, which has arguably been the most common second language on US TV, to reflect a slightly wider range of language diversity.

Misused Words | J = Y | Don’t Double Down Until You Double Check

Standard

Misuse = Abuse = You Are a Boob

Everyone is brutalizing my beautiful husband, the English language!

How is it that something reads “collegiate” when “collegial” is meant? I know how it happens. You think you heard it or saw it that way and eventually start using it with confidence. And next thing you know you’re throwing your misheard/misused word around all over town. But it’s wrong and could be fixed by just checking and confirming it in a dictionary first. Just to be sure, even if you are sure you’re sure.

I am almost always sure, but I like to double check. (Or, to jump in and use a phrase I hate – and discuss below – Don’t double down until you double check.)

I saw a job ad today that put itself out there as a high-end, exclusive luxury branding manager kind of role. But then in the bulleted highlights, it read: “collegiate environment”. I dunno about you, but if I were going to take on a luxury-goods senior brand management role, I don’t want to feel like I’m back in college – kegger anyone? Which is what “collegiate” means.

In a similar vein, my mom did some work for a writer who wrote the line, “She reached into her brazier” when he actually meant “brassiere”. He was offended when she corrected it. But, pardon the pun, would you rather look like a boob… or actually use the right word for what is essentially… a boob holder?

The Swedish J to Y

It isn’t that Swedes cannot say “J” as in “just” or “judge” or “jet lag”. In some constructions, depending on where the “j” comes in the word they want to say, they say the “dj” sound. In many others they pronounce it “y”. Many Swedes pronounce it “y” always. So it’s “yet lag”, “yust”, “yudge”, “yoy” or “enyoy yourself” – or, as I heard today, “yam” when “jam” was meant. There was some discussion that employed the word “jam” – and it was all I could do not to laugh when people quite earnestly said “yam”. Candied yams all around. I should be used to this now, and for the most part I am. I never so much as flinch when I hear the common words from the mouths of Swenglish speakers every day. But this may well have been the first time I heard “jam” as “yam”.

Doubling Down on Dumb – Vernacular Abuse

I was none too pleased quite some time ago when KFC launched a sandwich called the “Double Down” – it is basically two fried chicken patties in place of the bread that would normally house a sandwich. The media has enjoyed the launch and limited-time relaunch of this “sandwich”, with The New York Daily News going so far as to question what constitutes a sandwich, and The Guardian calling it “controversial”, almost as much as the eating, feasting public likes the (as described) “bunless, protein-rich, fat-filled” concoction.

Double Down on coronary artery disease

Double Down on coronary artery disease

All that aside, and my point for even bringing it up, I am not at all a fan of the term “double down”. I noticed it creeping into everyday language a few years ago (and wrote about it) – especially from the babbling mouths of political pundits, usually criticizing other politicians who had a bad idea and then “doubled down” on the same bad idea. (“Double down” is a gambling term – doubling the bet on whatever one was wagering on.)

Double Down Under” – The Crystal Method

Now, this build up of “doubling down” has finally reached its peak (or given how poorly I think of it, its nadir). I sat in a corporate meeting today and TWO executives mentioned that we will “double down” on some part of the strategy. Can we get a collective Nancy “My life really began when I married my husband” Reagan (that is, “just say no”) here? Once its in the corporate jargon lexicon, it’s past annoying. It’s vomit-worthy.

No One Owns Your Ugly

Standard

No, no one owns your ugly. Just you. We all have the capacity to be ugly people – and I mean ugly on the inside and in how we behave. Yesterday I quite insistently wrote that I hate listening to English people speak (unless they are using the word “dirty”), which is just a broad and ugly generalization. I had one, maybe two, specific people in mind – and my fussiness had nothing to do with their being English. Mostly it was because they whine all the time (or whinge as the English say). I have loads of lovely English friends who span the whole of England, including the varied and fascinating array of regional accents. So, yeah, I am just trying to sweep up that bit of ugly and deliver a half-assed apology. Even if there is no one to apologize to since this is just my platform for aimless rambling.

Friendship
When it comes to friendship or feeling – who is the glue? I have often described myself as the glue that holds friendships and groups of friends together. I discussed this with my brother recently – this strange sense of feeling that he and I have always had that we needed to continue making efforts when it was not really in our best interest; this sense that people do not care – even if they are or have been among your best friends – when you just fall out of their life. They don’t mind that you keep making the effort with them but if you didn’t the friendship would probably just die. And they would not mind that either. I used to be this way too – loyal, attentive and in pursuit (although I know this sounds a bit stalker-like) to a fault. Until I realized I was wasting my time. It is just another exercise in holding on to things from the past – and there is enough stuff, and are enough people, in the present to deal with. Like most things, there is a constant need to remind oneself to be in the present, the present, the present.

Friendship: TV Debate – Broad City v Girls
Considering friendship as it is portrayed on TV, I watched the most recent season of Girls on HBO. I cannot explain why I watch this show because there is absolutely nothing likeable about it. Many critics have written about the characters and how the show is somehow “realistic” even if the characters are not likeable. Creator/writer Lena Dunham gets a lot of press for creating this realistically unpleasant world in which she and her girlfriends live as well as for her penchant for on-screen nudity and willingness to show off a lot of her less-than-perfect physique. She is lovely and gifted with more talent than I can describe; more power to her. I don’t have a problem with any of this.

My problem with Girls, perhaps – and this may only reflect my wish to believe that people are not as selfish as they appear on TV – is that the characters are so painfully self-involved and totally, thoroughly up their own asses in terms of selfishness and disregard for the feelings, accomplishments, achievements, failures, insecurities and problems of others. The only character in this show who seems to have any sense of a compass in terms of how he feels about and treats others is Ray, and he is not particularly likeable either. Not that people need to be likeable (particularly on TV, where, if I face reality, most of the most memorable characters are the biggest dicks in existence from whom no one would take the kind of shit they dish out). Ray, too, is fallible – but then, aren’t we all?

Friendship, in my book, is not friendship when rendered and lived the way the friendships in Girls are. These girls are brutal to each other, they use each other, they say things to each other that no caring people would ever say. They are unsupportive and have really selfish fights. I might expect some of this behavior from adolescent, hormonal girls – but from women in their early 20s? Not so much. If a collective of women has this many problems with each other, are so hopelessly different, cannot put themselves in each other’s shoes, would rarely, if ever, go to bat for one another, delight SO MUCH in taking cracks at these “friends” when the others are not around (and the list goes on), how – oh, how – do we imagine that these girls are friends?

In some ways, yes, it’s a problem – I watch and think it’s horrible, awful and unrealistic. Critics and fans alike set the internet on fire talking about how “unrealistic” it was when Dunham’s character seduced (and rapidly destroyed a casual relationship with) a character played by Patrick Wilson last season. Such a “bedding” might not happen every minute of every day, but it is not unrealistic.

But women who decide to put up with the kind of abuse and backhanding from supposed friends that the women of Girls take episode after episode? That’s unrealistic! Maybe because these women are all insecure and troubled and selfish, they somehow can only survive and attract/maintain friendships with people who are equally shallow and self-absorbed, almost a theatre of “I can give as good as I get” of selfishness and casual cruelty. I started to wonder whether it was a reflection of how young women really are or whether it was a generational thing. Or whether this was all exaggerated because it’s a TV show. Is it possible, I thought, that young women (on TV) cannot reflect some of the genuine selfishness of youth while also still displaying genuine care and loyalty for their friends?

And that’s when I saw Broad City. I had been inundated and annoyed by ads for the Comedy Central show Broad City for weeks (these always appear between segments of The Daily Show when you watch it online). The ads really did not inspire me to watch the show – it looked a bit crass and frankly annoying like a lot of Comedy Central content. Then one Saturday afternoon I decided to give it a try. Apart from finding it quite funny, if vulgar, I found the two main characters, Ilana and Abbi, far more relatable in some ways (albeit exaggerated versions of relatable) than their Girls contemporaries – most of all because their friendship was so strong. It was obvious why these two were friends, why they turned to each other and were there for each other through thick and thin, supportive but not above the occasional poking fun at each other – not because they are spiteful, entitled assholes (as the characters in Girls feel like) but because they just know each other that well and enjoy the good-natured ribbing.

Now I am sad that Broad City’s first season is over, but endlessly relieved to see Hannah and co from Girls done with their third season. Certainly it says more about me and what I think friendship is – or what TV should be – than it does about the quality of either show. (And it does not say much in my defense that I keep watching stuff I really don’t like. I can’t help myself. What would I complain about otherwise? How could I maintain a robust hate list? I don’t have a monopoly on it, but I have to keep myself ugly somehow; I own my ugly, after all.)

I finally found someone uglier than you, A.M.” – Olli

Pretty (Ugly Before)” – Elliot Smith

Likelier to be a Dirty Astronaut: Five Admissions

Standard

It’s the last day of March, and I am not fond of listening to most English accents. I admit it. I have gone from an adolescent anglophile to… well, this person who just does not want to hear it. I like to joke about it and imitate it à la “You don’t know me at all. I don’t need to be drunk to talk dirty.” (Because one of the only words that sounds best in English-English and can really only be taken seriously from the mouth of an English person is “dirty”.) Admission number one.

Admission number two. Watching movies in which a character finds out she is pregnant and then has to tell someone else she is pregnant (especially someone who has a stake in the pregnancy, i.e., the father), sort of freaks me out emotionally. Seeing these reactions – fictional though they may be – the processing that takes place… the characters’ place in life – some wanting a baby, some not at all, some shocked or horrified, not even thinking “baby” is on their life’s radar when it comes into being. Watching these reactions makes me think about how I doubt I will ever have this kind of conversation – and up to this point would not have had this conversation even in the event of pregnancy. It occurs to me right now as sort of sad because I have been determined to go it alone. No illusions, no expectations, no surprises – the hard work would be mine alone.

I think this all hit me the other night when I watched the film Short Term 12. The main character (played by the suddenly-everywhere Brie Larson) discovers she is pregnant and eventually tells her boyfriend. His surprise, initial reaction (which seemed almost as though he was stunned – negatively – gave way to a lot of joy and support), interested me as well. The actor’s face registered such shock and surprise in that moment… the reality dawning on him in just a few seconds – I am not sure I have seen a purer reaction in a film before. (Incidentally, I had never really seen the actor – John Gallagher Jr before except in the often-grating and thankfully almost-over The Newsroom, in which he portrays one of the only likeable characters.) I am, and I say this with a tinge of regret and wistfulness, more likely to become an astronaut than a mother at this point in my life.

Admission number three. I am always – always – too curious about things and particularly about people, which almost never ends well. When someone seems really out there and bizarre, I find that I want to get to the heart of their pathology – or at least their deep-seated irregularities. Several years ago, I briefly talked to/had a few conversations with someone who was, for lack for a better or less repetitive term, way out there and completely fucked-up. His proclivities and perverse predilections (insofar as I knew the extent of them, which, as it turns out, I didn’t. What I knew was only the tip of the iceberg – and not illegal) were so bizarre that it was like watching a building collapse in slow motion. He slowly revealed things about himself that were disturbing and sad – but did not even begin to reflect what would come later, long after I no longer knew him. It was a brief acquaintance that ended almost as soon as it began. But my too-curious mind Googled him after a couple of years and found that he had apparently been arrested for something very serious, tried to commit suicide, was put on house arrest and then disappeared before his court date (or something resembling this chain of events). He thus ended up on his state’s most-wanted list of fugitives. The whole thing was rather shocking but satisfied (or even overly satisfied) my curiosity. Then, the other day, after a couple more years had passed, I looked up his name again to see if he had been captured or if anything new had come to light about the situation… only to learn that he is dead. Apparently he died on the opposite side of the country from where he was a wanted man, using an assumed identity – and died of pneumonia!? From the little I knew of him, he was someone who wanted to die and therefore took all the risks a person can take. I am not surprised to learn that he is dead, but it still rests uneasily in my mind – like what a horrible end. What a horrible life, really.

Admission number four. I have often laughed at Swenglish – the fluent but strange Swedish-English concoction that escapes Swedes’ mouths when they quite ably speak English. One of the things that gets me, much more than the “yoy” rather than “joy” and the “shat” for “chat”, is the tendency to form a “dju” sound at the beginning of words that start with a “u” sound when combined with some other preceding sound. You will thus hear something like, “When we worked in the UK” as “When we worked in the Ju-Kay”. Recently I heard someone say, “The views that we works with” but it sounded like “The Jews that we work with”.

Admission number five. “I love everything about you.

 

Urinal cakes: Flushing it out – “Nothing’s wasted if it’s human”

Standard

I was recently told more than one story about someone who seems to have a sick and unnatural obsession with urinal cakes (that is, removing urinal cakes from urinals and throwing them around in a public place – like a bar). Yeah, no details, but my thinking was less about how disgusting and freaky this quirk of obsessively handling urinal cakes and more about how the word “urinal” is pronounced.

In American English, we say /ˈjʊr.ən.əl/and in UK English they say /jʊˈraɪ.nəl/. Have a listen. Hearing “urinal” the UK way in the course of hearing the aforementioned story, I almost spit my coffee out all over the place. I had heard it before but had somehow forgotten how it sounded – the stress being on a totally different syllable. Lots of words like that between the two Englishes.

Amidst all this urinal talk, I suddenly remembered the episode of Frasier in which Niles finally gets a satisfactory divorce deal. He had labored under the false belief that his wife’s family fortune came from the timber industry. His wily lawyer discovered that the family fortune really came from urinal cakes. Niles decided to phone Maris, the soon-to-be-ex-wife, who refused to come to the phone until Niles craftily and smugly stated, “I have flushed out the family secret.” Haha. Maris immediately came to the phone.

Frasier was such a fantastic show.

Urinal-cake talk makes the brief but vivid poem “Bladder Song” from Leonard Nathan spring to mind.

Bladder Song
On a piece of toilet paper
Afloat in the unflushed piss,
The fully printed lips of a woman.

Nathan, cheer up! The sewer
Sends you a big red kiss.
Ah, nothing’s wasted, if it’s human.

Unexpected turns – So far from “home”

Standard

I am asked all the time why I live so far from “home” – but people don’t understand when they ask that “home” is a relative term. Where is home? I feel at home in Sweden now. Iceland was always home in my heart. But time does change things.

Sooner or later everyone asks how I would end up in the woods of rural Värmland, western Sweden – most of the people native to this region think I am weird and/or exotic… the neighbors apparently could never work up the nerve to talk to me so they just talked to each other about me, making up stories. They were convinced I was German because of my name (and there are a lot of Germans and Dutch people around here in the summertime). Eventually one neighbor came by and told me all the “theories” the neighbors passed around. I can see how they thought I was quite an anomaly since everyone here seems to have been born within a 30 kilometer radius of this place. And my moving here a handful of years ago was the most dramatic thing to happen in ten or more years.

I had a little fling with a local guy – never met people more vanilla in their tastes and experiences – and so in awe of the smallest things that they perceived to be outside the norm. The local yokel tells me, years after the fact, that he was also in awe and still sometimes looks back on these little dalliances together as though they were some kind of dream. It was so “Hollywood” for some glamorous (HAHAH) American to turn up and actually express some kind of interest in him. And to his delight – not even interest in him for something long and drawn out but rather just in a few light-hearted conversations and a bit of casual sex here and there. I didn’t need or want something else, nice as he was. Sometimes he agonizes that maybe he used me, even though it has always been clear that I took and got exactly what I wanted from knowing him. It was mutually beneficial, and apparently this is outside the norm as well. It seems people in this neck of the woods jump into committed relationships with everyone they sleep with. That would explain the inexperience and the awe.

My ending up here is no mystery. I am a practical and pragmatic person. I lived and worked in Oslo. I disliked it. I started looking for places to live outside Oslo, and the area I covered in scoping out suburban and rural areas within a reasonable commuting distance from Oslo grew wider and wider until I might as well have been in Sweden. Sweden offers an abundance of benefits – much lower cost of living in every way. Being part of the EU, it also is not subject to all the taxes/customs when buying stuff online from other European countries (one of the banes of my existence in Iceland and Norway). Also, as a citizenship collector, I could get Swedish citizenship (since Sweden allows for multiple citizenships) but Norway is one of those countries that makes you choose either/or – Norway or “nothing” (whatever you have already). I found a liveable house and land not far from the Norwegian border. I worked at home most of the time. It was the best of all worlds. Many years into what started as an experiment in cross-border living and working, despite not working in Oslo anymore (for the time being), I have not once regretted this choice. If anything, my connection to this place has become so much a part of me that, despite my wanderlust and nomadic tendencies, I always long to go home. And when I think “go home”, I think of this little house in the Swedish woods.

Part of the torment of the nomadic mind is that it can occasionally fool me and make me start to wonder whether I should try out some other place. For a while I thought maybe I really wanted a balance of country and city life. So I took a job in Gothenburg (which is not a huge city but is a big enough city to qualify in my experience) and originally planned to live in both places (coming home on weekends). Things have not worked out quite as planned, so I have spent much of the last year living in hotels and succumbing in every unfortunate way to a life of commuting misery. At this point it is not just the hotel life and lack of “settling in” for me – I realized that I just don’t want to be there. At all. No matter where I lived in the city, I just want to be at home.

Who could ever have imagined that this concept of home – this longing for home – would mean a life in Sweden? As I discussed and wrote about recently, I used to laugh at people who opted to be Scandinavian studies majors at university – what on earth could they possibly do with that? Turns out, seeing as how I have spent almost my entire adult life living and working in Scandinavia or for Scandinavian companies, I might have benefited from studying Nordic languages rather than Russian and Serbian-Croatian (as I did). Sure, I can read Anna Karenina in the original now – but speaking everyday Swedish is a silly challenge. I had a couple of pen pals from Sweden in my high school years – seeing written Swedish and hearing all these place names, it felt even more far off than a place like Vladivostok or Khabarovsk, which were like second nature in my academic brain. When a college classmate (which almost makes it sound like we were friends – she was hostile toward me from the beginning for absolutely no reason) told me she had been an exchange student in Sweden during her high school years, it struck me as perplexing – why Sweden? (Of course I remember that everyone I know who became an exchange student had the “dream location” for their studies abroad – and all of them ended up somewhere else. The girl who dreamt of fluency in French was sent to Adelaide, Australia; the guy who wanted to advance his Japanese studies was sent to Germany….)

It’s funny now when I talk with Swedish people about locations in Sweden, it dawns on me now that I know exactly what they are talking about and where they are talking about. First and foremost because I live in just such a remote place and thus have become intimately familiar with a part of Sweden that a lot of Swedes don’t even know particularly well. Secondly I suppose this is just because I am so portable – carrying bits of my life to and fro, driving all over Sweden, discovering all its towns and hidden places. It is like my experience of Canada – most Canadians have not even seen as much of Canada as I have. Sweden, despite being so much smaller than Canada, seems to suffer the same fate. Swedes seem to know where they came from and then seem to know the place where their summerhouses are. I suppose that is one way to know one is at home.

And the living is easy …

On a similar note, you can always tell how “Swedified” a foreigner is by what prepositions they use when they speak English. When a native English speaker repeats, “He is on the table” instead of “at the table”, you know they have been here too long and their native language has been infected (and inflected) by their adopted language. I’ve been saved from this – slightly – by the fact that I wasn’t a Scandinavian studies major and spent so much time reading stuff like Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don (Тихий Дон) or Ivo Andric’s The Bridge on the Drina (Na Drini ćuprija/На Дрини ћуприја).

Romney – Please learn to speak clear English in complete sentences

Standard

I wish Romney were capable of completing his sentences, even though I do not necessarily want to hear whatever he is driving at. I also wish he could complement most of what he says not just with facts but with specifics and details. I think we are out of luck on both fronts.

I was struck most starkly by Obama mentioning a contextually appropriate story about a girl he met at Ground Zero. He was quite specific, knew the girl’s name and fit the story into the topic. Romney, on the other hand (as usual), jumped all over the map, straying way off topic, trying to throw in stories of “real people” – but was totally non-specific. He met a woman in Wisconsin (or something) but did not finish. What was the point of starting but not finishing that thought? He met unemployed people before. But he is not good at, because he is not sufficiently human, to weave individual-level stories into his shtick. He should steer away from it entirely.

Not surprised about the lack of specifics since he has never produced specifics at all. “Come on our website…” and you will see how we reduce the deficit. And if he does cite specifics (like his apparent “fewer ships than 1916” detail), they are so off-the-wall.

And that plastic face. Oh, god.

Linguistic tipping points – Double down bust

Standard

I hate the term “tipping point”, but it is everywhere.

Years and years ago, when I sometimes went to a local casino, one of the blackjack dealers, an older guy named “Ted”, liked to say, in a gravelly voice, almost unintelligibly, “Double down bust.”

I have noticed, particularly during the US presidential campaigns that are overwhelming international media at the moment, that there is an unfortunate spike in the use of the term “double down”. This gambling term, which means to double one’s bet or risk, has enjoyed much greater mainstream application as candidate Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on his positions but has often “doubled down” on factually inaccurate information. The use of this term has spread throughout the media, though, and I rarely hear a news story now that is not putting this expression into play.

Needless to say, I don’t like it – especially because everyone is using it. If it were just one guy’s (or one network’s) signature phrase, it might not bother me this way. There is no controlling the way expressions and language spread like wildfire, but certain expressions just do nothing for me.

(I won’t even get into the naming of the dubious KFC Double Down sandwich (“the bun” being replaced by two slabs of chicken), which strikes me as doubling down on clogged arteries.)