Posts Tagged ‘language’

Obama’s Mirror

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

I keep hearing about Obama’s outrage over President Bush’s “divisive” remarks regarding people who want to appease terrorists. Bush compared the modern day appeasers to the people in the 1930s who wanted to talk to Hitler rather than actively opposing him, and was speaking in the context of modern-day Israel. Barack Obama is outraged that Bush would say such a thing about him, because, he is not trying to appease terrorists. He has also stated that John McCain is a “hypocrite” for defending Bush.

The notable thing to me in all this is that Bush made no reference to Obama.

Imagine you’re among a group of people, and you make a derisive comment about “idiots” (for example). Somebody in the group suddenly acts all offended and insists that they are not an idiot. You weren’t talking about that person — there are certainly enough idiots in the world that you can make such a statement without referring to present company. What does that person’s outrage say about you? More importantly, what does that person’s outrage say about what they think about themselves?

I think there is an argument to be made regarding Obama’s previous statements about going into the middle east and talking with certain belligerent groups, but that is beside the point: Bush made no such argument. There are prominent people who have been arguing strongly for appeasement1, enoughs so that Bush’s comment should not be assumed to be pointed at Obama unless you think the accusation fits. Obama’s defensiveness is telling. It is a weakness. Beyond the sense of self-incrimination, it is also indicative of a man who is thin-skinned — enough so that he may have serious difficulty withstanding the unending personal attacks that hound anyperson who achieves the office he is pursuing.

There is a common tactic in politics to demonize your opponent by assuming the worse about them in all cases. If a statement can be interpreted two ways, you assume the worst one, and thus justify thinking the worst of that person. I generally reject that tactic — it is dishonest and hurts the cause of honest debate. On a similar note, I also believe that:

  • When John Kerry made his infamous remark about ill-educated people getting “stuck in Iraq”, he was not attacking military personnel, but making a clumsy attempt at a “Bush is stoopid” joke. Nothing more. He fumbled a joke and got unlucky.
  • When Newt Gingrich referred to “the language of the ghetto”, he was not referring to Spanish, but to the way that not knowing the primary language of the country you live in automatically marginalizes (or “ghetto-izes”) a person. Putting it another way, if you live in Paris, any language other than French is “the language of the ghetto” if you do not also speak French.
1: E.g. a certain ex-pol whose last name, ironically, rhymes with “smarter”

¿Que What?

Friday, March 14th, 2008

The wife is planning to make quesadillas one of these days, and it inspired me to write up a quick etymology of this fascinating word.

Quesadilla (pron. kay-suh-dee-uh) of course comes from the Spanish language. As we all know, “Que” is the Spanish word for “What” when posing a question. “Sadilla”, in turn, is a spelling corruption of the French “cedilla“, which is pronounced the same way. A cedilla is a French bit of punctuation — that little squiggle you sometimes see under the letter “ç”. (Ooooh, alliteration!)

So “Que Sadilla” literally translates as “What French?”, or more meaningfully, “I don’t speak French” — which makes sense, as the speaker clearly speaks Spanish. As for how this strange term came to represent a delicious cheese-stuffed food, well, everyone knows that the French are notorious cheese-eaters, so there you go.

Here endeth the lesson.


Triple Negative

Friday, October 19th, 2007

The following headline caught my eye in the Chicago Tribune this morning:

House Fails to Foil Health Care Veto

It took me a couple seconds to figure out if the bill passed or not!

He’s so stupid he’s brilliant!

Friday, March 18th, 2005

I’m sure we’ve all seen this by now:

[A]s we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld

It has always struck me as amusing that the Bush-haters and other assorted smug liberals so love to use this quote as proof that Donald Rumsfeld is some sort of moron. Rumsfeld, in making this comment, wields the English language with the skill of a surgeon — cutting away extraneous verbiage with a precision that is uncommon in political figures…

…but it appears to be a bit too complex of an idea for the limited comprehension of people whose concept of reasoned debate is to slap a Bu$hitler bumper sticker on their car.

A quick Google search turns up several examples, ranging from a fairly clever “poetry review” from Slate, which states: “Much of it is about indirection and evasion: He never faces his subjects head on but weaves away, letting inversions and repetitions confuse and beguile,” to a pathetically incoherent entry complete with the standard “Republicans = Nazis” references that make even less sense than usual in this context. (Note also that this last entry is not only incoherent, but apparently not even original.) Yet another picks up the gauntlet by taking Rumsfeld’s “poetry” and setting it to music, while an organization in England has awarded him their annual “Foot in Mouth” award, which is given to the year’s “worst mangler of the English language”. Finally, we have a true intellectual who uses this quote as a basis for his theory that Rumsfeld must smoke pot; and a site that, without further explanation, posts the quote in their Stupid Quotes section.

“Stupid” indeed. If I had never heard this quote before, and you were to put it in front of me without attribution, and challenge me to guess who said it, I probably would have guessed “Stephen Hawking”. It sounds far more like the words of a good scientist than the inane babbling that liberals have branded it. The statement is logically and grammatically perfect. It is succinct, in that it states a complex concept just about as plainly and briefly as is possible. I believe even more telling about Rumsfeld’s sharpness is the fact that this was not some sort of prearranged statement, but an off-the-cuff response to a question. The man is sharp.

The rest of the transcript is worth reading. I’m glad that that man is where he is, doing what he’s doing. We are all better off for it, even if some people don’t know it.