October 18, 2007
WALK THE TALK
Slate.com’s Dear Prudence advice column recently carried this letter:
Many words and phrases that originate in African-American culture in our country, such as sister, bro, hangin' with my homies, and so on, going back in time (think of hep cat) are eventually incorporated into the larger vernacular. Is it inappropriate, or when is it inappropriate, for white people to talk this way? .... But recently I read comments by a black writer implying that behavior like mine is offensive. The writer found it condescending and gratuitous. I realize that one black person does not speak for all black people. And I address my question also to other ethnic groups' slang, as well as that of African-Americans....
I asked Slate's Melonyce McAfee to provide one black person's perspective on your question. She says that of course it's natural for colloquialisms from different groups, be it surfer-speak or black culture, to enter the larger society. But what makes her uncomfortable about hearing black slang coming from white people is when the speaker says it while trying to sound black—it's affected and awkward. She warns that by the time such phrases enter popular culture, they've often fallen out of fashion in the community that spawned them (are you still saying hep cat?). So here are a couple of questions to ask yourself: Have the phrases become part of your natural speech, or do you also adopt a pose when saying them? And do you really feel fun and spunky, or hopelessly self-conscious?
My first question is ~ other ethnic groups have slang? Anyway, we’ve heard Hillary R. Clinton attempt a black accent and vernacular in a speech down south (she “don’t feel no ways tired”), and what’s weirder, Barack Obama has done the same thing. Maybe that’s why I heard a couple of black-sounding women on NPR today saying that white people aren’t scared anymore, so it’s time for them to march again. (I was too late to catch their names or the general topic.)
This week I also heard a radio caller say that he objected to the use of “lynching” to refer to anyone but black people ~ only black people can be lynched. He obviously hasn’t watched enough cowboy movies, where vigilante mobs were always lynching people. According to yourdictionary.com, “lynch” comes from Lynch's law, after Capt. William Lynch (1742-1820), member of a vigilance committee in Pittsylvania, Virginia (1780), but Wikipedia offers several other possible histories. Many peoples have shared the honors of lynching.
THE ROVING EDITOR
||| Seen on a business card posted in an ice cream shop: “You’re Art!” I went to the web site, www.youreart.com, to see if this was a tattoo service or something, but it’s just a not very good painter with a BFA and teaching certification advertising her wares. No, you’re art, but not much.
||| Radio caller: “You’re being disingenuine.” Almost makes sense, but it’s wrong. “Disingenuous” is being used a lot more these days than it used to be, though. “Ingenuous” means inborn, ergo, sincere. But if “disingenuine” were a word, it would mean “not not genuine”, ergo, genuine, because of the double negative. The prefix “in” can mean in, or it can mean not, ergo, the confusion.
||| On TV news: “There’s going to be a serious fatality.” As is so often the case.
||| Movie summary: “Police and a deadly pursuer tail an unlawful couple.” An unlawful couple would be like an illegal couple, neither of which makes much sense. At one time it might have meant an unmarried couple having “illicit” relations. But the writer was trying to say the couple were criminals. “Lawless” would work, but “unlawful” doesn’t mean the same thing.
THROUGH THE MILLER
A couple of clever bits of wordplay from Dennis Miller:
||| (From 10/15/07 at 12:00 o’clock): Gore bit off more than he could eschew. Not that Gore wants to eschew any of his factual errors, since he just got the Nobel Peace Prize for them.
||| Noblesse oblique referring to the suggestion (from Dems, I think) that it would be a good national security and health measure to vaccinate large crowds, namely NASCAR fans. Maybe they didn’t really mean that NASCAR fans are diseased; perhaps they think that NASCAR fans are mostly Democrats and would welcome the freebie. But it might have been more tactful to offer to vaccinate the Democratic convention for starters.
Did you know: A sock puppet is a false online personality created to give the illusion that there are other people besides oneself who agree with your opinion. A meat puppet is a real person who’s corralled to do the same thing for someone.
READING WITH PLEASURE
Bill R. wrote: “I would take issue with Miss Manners in that the formal military usage I learned in the stone age (early 1970s) included such things as "accept with much pleasure" (abbreviated in radio messages as WMP).”
I can’t argue with the military. But there's a difference between accepting with pleasure and announcing a wedding with pleasure. Too much happiness at your daughter's wedding starts to look like relief. I've also read about invitations that say things like "you are graciously invited" (i.e., “I am gracious”). But it’s OK to be happy at receiving and accepting an invitation.
||| In her introduction to At Home in the World by Joyce Maynard, her memoir covering her year-long affair with J. D. Salinger, Maynard writes:
I published stories and articles about aspects of my experience that some people would have considered shameful or embarrassing. I wanted to tell the story of a real woman with all her flaws. I hoped, by doing that, others might feel less ashamed of their own unmentionable failings and secrets.
So now she’s a social worker. Why don’t I believe her? And she doesn’t seem to want to warn young girls about men three times their age, she just wants to make everything public. Lots of girls would end up hoping they too could snag a famous literary figure, if only for a year. Compare Han Suyin’s remark in the fictionalized story of her love affair, A Many-Splendored Thing: she told her lover she certainly would sell her love story for rice.
||| In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas by Theodore Dalrymple points out that pre-judging from a body of knowledge and experience is essential if we are not to reinvent the wheel every day. The words “prejudice” and “discrimination” have become so attached to the idea of racial prejudice that people forget that the ability to discriminate, to make informed judgments, is a high human faculty, though that doesn’t mean we have to figure out every aspect of life for ourselves, e.g., why shouldn’t I murder someone?
In the course of his argument, Dalrymple noted the shift from the use of the word “pupil” to the word “student”.
The two words have very different connotations. A pupil is under the tutelage or direction of someone who knows what the pupil, for his own good, ought to know and to learn; a student has matured to the point at which his own curiosity or ambition permit him to follow his own inclinations, at least to some extent, where his studies are concerned.
Which reminds me of a recent anecdote about candidate John Edwards, who said in regard to sex education in schools that he would not presume to teach his own second-grade children what’s right or wrong: “I don’t want to impose my view. Nobody made me God.” Regarding teaching my own children, I learned early on to impose my prejudices on them: Don’t hit me. Don’t hit him. Don’t litter. Pick up your toys. Because I said so. We did a lot of arguing about my prejudices. Still do.
Or click on underlined book links.
"Flash in the Pants";
"If you're so smart why aren't you me?";
"If you build it they won't come";
Rage Boy/Bat Boy: Can you spot the difference?;
Akron U. Alma Mater: The Lost Verse;
PWE (Protestant Work Ethic) tote bag;
"I am here" T-shirt;
"Someone went to Heaven and all I got was this lousy T-shirt";
"I eat dead things" doggy shirt and BBQ apron;
new kids’ things, mouse pad, teddy bear, stein, and more!
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WHEN SONNY GETS BLUE! Check out the video clips of Sonny Robertson and the Howard Street Blues Band at http://www.sonnyrobertson.com/ and http://www.youtube.com/rondaria, with his new original song, "A Different Shade of Blue".
SEARCH IT OUT ON AMAZON : "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter." Proverbs 25:2; "Get wisdom! Even if it costs you everything, get understanding!" Proverbs 4:7:
The poet Muriel Rukeyser said the universe is not composed of atoms, but stories. The physicist Werner Heisenberg said the universe is not made of matter, but music.
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