Saturday, August 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Esperanto!

This year the invented language Esperanto celebrated its 125th anniversary. L L Zamenhof began the Esperanto movement when he published the Unua Libro "First Book" on July 26, 1887. Esperanto is the most successful invented international auxiliary language, with perhaps as many as 2,000,000 fluent speakers and perhaps a thousand native speakers, including international financier George Soros whose surname means "will soar" in Esperanto. Over 25,000 books in Esperanto have been published. The Scottish poet, author, translator and magazine editor William Auld wrote chiefly in Esperanto and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, 2004 and 2006, the only person ever nominated for works in Esperanto. There is an official international Esperanto Academy in charge of keeping Esperanto's structure and new vocabulary consistent with its founding principles as defined by Zamenhof and the first (1905) World Congress of Esperanto. According to this website (in Esperanto) there currently 579 Esperanto organizations in the world.

Esperanto language resources (mostly) on the Internet
The book In the Land of Invented Languages by Erika Okrent is a general survey of invented languages, including Esperanto. I found two adequate online Esperanto courses for beginners, here and here. The best English-Esperanto Esperanto-English dictionary I've found is at the Majstro website. Another good one is the Reta Vortaro. RV has definitions in Esperanto with English glosses at the end of each entry. An outstanding Esperanto-Esperanto dictionary is the Plena Ilustrita Vortaro de Esperanto. Their online dictionary (free registration required, 50 words per day limit) is extremely useful for advanced students. A list of Esperanto sexual terminology is here (sorry, all in Esperanto). The only Esperanto reference grammar I've found is all in Esperanto, the Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko by Bertilo Wennergren. It can be viewed online or downloaded in PDF format. It's well organized, exhaustive in detail and covers non-standard grammatical and word-building affixes as well as those approved by the Esperanto Academy. A good online Esperanto bookseller is the Esperanto-USA Retbutiko. It offers textbooks, reference books, subscriptions to periodicals, original literature and translations, as well as CDs, DVDs, souvenirs and Esperanto club memberships. Many national and international Esperanto organizations have their own newsletters. Some magazines in Esperanto: La Ondo de Esperanto, Monato, Mirmekobo ("anteater"). The website La Esperanta Gazetejo has free downloadable PDFs of many Esperanto periodicals, current and out of print.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

LGBT or the alphabet soup minority

The politically correct term for the minority to which homosexuals allegedly belong is LGBT "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender". The first variation on LGBT I found was LGBTQIA. The Q can stand for "questioning", meaning heterosexuals or homosexuals who jump the fence, or want to. Q can also stand for "queer", meaning people who consider themselves too unconventional to be L, G, B or T, or something like that. The I stands for "intersex", people who have both male and female physical traits. The A stands for "asexual", people who feel no sexual attraction to others or have no sexual orientation. Another version is LGBTTIQQ2SA which stands for "lesbians, gays, transexuals, transgendered, queer, questioning, 2-spirited, and allies". Because of the constantly shifting definition of who belongs to this group and the absurdity of the terminology, my favorite political bloggers, gay and straight, rightly mock LGBT[...] as the crazy alphabet soup minority. My theory is that they plan to keep adding new letters until everyone is included, willing or not. "You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile."

Gay, homosexual or ... ?

What should men who are sexually attracted mainly or exclusively to men call themselves? Sometimes I use "gay" because it's by far the most common polite word. Many other languages have borrowed it with the same meaning. For me, one drawback of the term "gay" is the oppressive political correctness of the gay community. The other drawback is stereotypical gay men. Stereotyping is wrong, except when members of the group being stereotyped behave as if their only purpose in life is to act out all the worst stereotypes about them. Or is that a subcategory of political correctness?

Sometimes I use "homosexual" because it's polite but more clinical, more generic and less politically correct than "gay". I have minor language-geek objections to "homosexual". It's an awkward blend of Greek and Latin, and it literally means "of the same sex", lacking a word element to clarify that it refers to sexual attraction.

Venerable alternative words are "homoerotic" and "homophile", with all Greek word elements. "Erotic" and "phile" do refer to sexual attraction but neither word has an element to indicate gender. "Homoerotic" is used to describe art, literature or sexual urges, but not persons. And both words are too scholarly and unknown to the general public.

My favorite word is "androphile", Greek for "man lover". Unfortunately, the only people who know what it means are those who've studied Ancient Greek or who've read the book Androphilia by Jack Malebranche (a.k.a. Jack Donovan), and I don't want to have to explain what it means every time I use it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Famous tubers

When I was in my teens and twenties, I thought it would be embarrassing to live in Idaho because all their license plates said "FAMOUS POTATOES". Since I moved back to New Mexico, I live in the former "Carrot Capital of the World". From the official scenic historical marker at the north end of town:
Bluewater Village
This community was founded in 1894 on the site of an earlier homestead and stage coach stop. Irrigation from Bluewater Lake and its proximity to the railroad and Route 66 allowed development of extensive agricultural fields which earned Bluewater the title "Carrot Capital of the World". The region became known as the "Uranium Capital of the World" after uranium was discovered nearby in 1950.
When Mom was a girl, her father used to buy carrots grown here. As far as I know, commercial farming in this area ended in the 1950s or 60s. Most of the uranium mines closed in the early 1980s. Now the mainstays of the local economy are tourism and correctional facilities. On weekends when the weather is nice, lost tourists drive through Bluewater Village looking for Bluewater Lake. The lake is approximately 8 miles west of here as the crow flies, 30 miles via I-40 and NM-612.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Princess wannabes in the workplace

Many years ago my rude bossy trouble-making loudmouth female coworker AM was complaining about not having enough work to do, so I gave her some of my work to do. Then she accused me of neglecting my work. That's when I realized she didn't want help, she just loved complaining and cutting other people down. She'd convinced herself this made her more honest and virtuous than anyone else, when the truth was that it made her an insufferable shrew. At the time I thought such behavior was unique to AM. Today Kathy Shaidle explained it all for me.
Women don’t complain because they’re looking for an answer. They complain for the sake of complaining, and receiving a sensible, solution-based response takes all the fun out of that.
Women long to be princess brides, a minuscule number of them get their wish, and the rest don’t do anything to deserve a spot on “Faces of the Year” lists. That’s because women tend to be lazy or stupid or both.
It's good to find out the truth and it confirms my own biases. It's depressing to find out this is an extremely common trait of women. More hilarious excerpts.
As one of my fellow females puts it, “If women ran the world, mankind would still be living in caves, albeit with really, really fancy curtains.”
Women don’t cure diseases, they just design new colored ribbons.
Anyone who’s worked in a modern office knows that the feminization of the workplace has decreased productivity and rendered men bitterly resentful and/or borderline gay.
At every “real” job I’ve held, the women around me—be they Sex and the City clones or Roman Catholic nuns—have talked for hours every day about what they’d had (or hadn’t) for breakfast, what they planned to have for lunch, what they wound up having for lunch instead, and what they were having for dinner. I would have preferred one of those “hostile work environments” in which, legend has it, obnoxious male employees crack innuendos nonstop. Alas, there was no procedure in place for me to file complaints against “culinary harassment.”
Her female coworkers, and her reaction to them, sound exactly like mine.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Crystals & Dan Shechtman

This week Sha'ar Lamatchil had an article about Dan Shechtman, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I thought it was interesting that SL put this article in their Hebrew language section, and used the Hebrew word גָּבִישׁ gavish "crystal" to illustrate the language's triconsonantal root word system. According Morfix Dictionary, the root g-b-sh means "to consolidate, to formulate, to unify; to crystallize, to materialize, to finalize". The Hebrew letter bet is pronounced as "b" or "v", depending on its phonetic environment.

To me this Nobel Prize is especially interesting because it's one of the rare cases of a scientist formerly considered a crackpot being publicly vindicated. Shechtman's work is in the new field of quasiperiodic crystals, or quasicrystals, "ordered crystalline materials lacking repeating structures". After Shechtman first published his findings in the early 1980s, Linus Pauling said he was "talking nonsense" and "There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists". Shechtman's own colleagues "asked him to leave for bringing disgrace on the team". Later other scientists duplicated Shechtman's discoveries and found naturally occurring quasicrystals, which have many scientific and practical applications. I wonder if any of the theories which James P Hogan championed in Kicking the Sacred Cow will receive this kind of vindication in my lifetime.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stanford Nutting & family

This week I stumbled across the blog Theater of the Word Incorporated. My favorite entry is The Sham Christ. It links to this Stanford Nutting Holiday Special video where the characters are all parodies of various false religions. My favorite line in the video is "Religion's a great big vacuous nothing, kinda like the music of Marty Haugen." I also liked the part about how Latin is a too modern "vulgar corruption" of the original liturgy of the Mass, which ought to be in Greek or Hebrew or "Ur-Sanskrit, the language that was spoken before the Tower of Babel".
Is the part about Ur-Sanskrit purely a joke, or are there really people who believe that was what everyone spoke before the Tower of Babel? Why not Sumerian instead? After all, Sumerian is the world's oldest written language. A list of the oldest written languages. Interesting that technically Sanskrit is probably old enough to be in the top ten, except that the oldest known Sanskrit manuscript only dates back to the 11th century AD.
Speaking of Marty Haugen, this picture
expresses exactly how I feel about his music. Hat tip to Paul Cat.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pueblo Indian language families

San Felipe & Santo Domingo
Zia & Santa Ana

Tanoan languages, also called Kiowa-Tanoan or Tanoan-Kiowa. The languages of the Kiowa branch are spoken by non-Pueblo tribes.
Jemez (also called Towa)
Ohkay Owingeh
San Ildefonso
Santa Clara

Uto-Aztecan languages. There are many Uto-Aztecan languages. I'm listing Hopi alone because the Hopis are the only Pueblo tribe in this group.

Zuni: Also spelled Zuñi. Most linguists consider Zuni a language isolate. It might be distantly related to other language families, including Tanoan and Keresan.


At the beginning of June this year, I moved from Seattle back to New Mexico. A couple of NM-themed entries to commemorate the move.

Albuquerque is New Mexico's largest city. What is the origin of the name Albuquerque? Details here. This new town in the Rio Grande Valley was named Alburquerque for Don Francisco Fernández de la Cueva (1619 -- 1676), Duke of Alburquerque. The original Alburquerque was a village in the Badajoz province of the Extremadura region of Spain, near the Portuguese border. Albuquerque is the Portuguese spelling. There are three theories about the meaning of Albu(r)querque:
1) from Latin alba quercus "white oak"
2) from Arabic Abu al-Qurq "father of the cork oak"
3) from Arabic al-Barquq "the plum"
The first two theories refer to the fact that old Albu(r)querque is in Spain's cork-growing region. The Arabic word in the third theory is also the origin of the word apricot.

I can't find the article to confirm it, but I believe I read somewhere that in the late 1800s the Anglo owner of Alburquerque's train station misspelled it Albuquerque on the station's sign, which thereby became the official spelling. In local Spanish slang, Albuquerque is called Burque for short.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


England's Mark Simpson is my favorite pop culture commentator. He coined the terms 'metrosexual' and 'sporno' to describe the post-1990 collision of fashion, advertising, social trends and male gender identity. At the end of May he released his new book Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story. Below is a review by Quiet Riot Girl, a frequent and insightful commenter on Mark's blog.

The Making of Metrosexy Men

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘metrosexual’? An attractive, young man, with a good haircut, who may or may not be checking himself out in the window of a store, in the shopping mall where he buys all the latest fashionable gear? Or do you think, as some people do, of a ‘fag’ or a gay man? Of someone so bothered about his appearance, that he may as well be a girl?

Mark Simpson, who first coined the term ‘metrosexual’ in 1994, knows exactly what the metrosexual is. In his latest book, Metrosexy, Simpson explains why the metrosexual is an important indication of how masculinity, and sexual identity, are changing. And why ‘metrosexuality’ goes much further than (toned and moisturised) skin-deep.

“Contrary to what you have been told,” says Simpson, “metrosexuality is not about flip-flops and facials, ‘man-bags’ or ‘manscara’. Or about men becoming ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves. In much the way that women have been for some time. It’s the end of the sexual division of bathroom and bedroom labour. It’s the end of sexuality as we’ve known it.”

The narcissism that is ever-apparent for the metro-man, who needs mirrors like narcissus himself needed that pool, is not necessarily a negative, argues Simpson. Men in contemporary society are now able to admit to wanting to be ‘beautiful’ and to be appreciated as ‘objects of desire’ in a way that was previously reserved only for women. In the introduction to his latest collection of essays, spanning two decades, Simpson writes:

‘At the end of the first decade of the Twenty First Century, metrosexuality, the male desire to be desired – by everyone, including and sometimes especially by other men – once regarded as pathological, perverted and definitely something to keep to yourself, is so commonplace as to be almost ‘normal’. Perhaps even – eek! – ordinary.’

This ‘desire to be desired’ by men, is obvious everywhere in our culture, once you open your eyes and look, and Mark Simpson has been looking, very carefully. In advertising, for example, he shows how male models, including sportsmen, such as David Beckham and Rafael Nadal, out-pose and out-sex women. Sporno does not just sell products, but also the ability of even the most ‘macho’ heterosexual sports stars to be ‘passive’ objects, for the camera, and the metrosexual gaze in general. As Simpson has pointed out, Beckham and other footballers have fought over their popularity with gay fans. They want to be loved by other men for their bodies, not just for their ability to ‘get it in’ the back of the net.

Film and television, too, is splattered with images of men demanding to be loved. A seminal image of the metrosexual noughties has been that shot of Daniel Craig, striding out of the sea with his manboobs gleaming in the sun. As Mark has put it, ‘James Bond becomes his own Bond Girl’. In an essay about American politics he tells us that even Obama has become his own ‘first lady’. Look how well turned out he is, how he smiles for the camera, how he never appears anything less than gym-toned. And, in a possibly disturbing distillation of this contemporary projection of mediated masculinity, Mikey Sorrentino of Jersey Shore fame has coined the mantra ‘GTL-gym, tanning, laundry’ to remind young men everywhere, that you must ‘keep young and beautiful, if you want to be loved’ (and be prepared to be filmed/photographed at any given moment).

But not everyone has embraced the pretty metrosexual with his pert ass and perfect abs and tits. In America, especially, there has been a kind of ‘retrosexual’ backlash against metrosexuality, a nostalgic call for a time when ‘men were men’ and they did not argue with their girlfriends about who had used up all the conditioner. As Simpson has written, the ‘retrosexual’ never stood a chance against the buff, shiny, preening metrosexual. But people wanted him to put up a fight:

‘What else could explain the squealing eagerness with which the media seized upon the confected character of Mad Men’s Don Draper as an example of the return of the ‘retrosexual’? An impossibly pretty and impeccably well-turned out Army deserter with identity issues – and a hidden, shameful secret – who works as an advertising creative and is the unwavering object of the camera’s voyeuristic gaze. We’re so metrosexualised now that this is what ‘old-time masculinity’ looks like to us. Put another way, metrosexuality is masculinity mediated, aestheticised and (self) fetishised. Even if it looks fetching in a trilby’.

Personally I am quite ambivalent about the metrosexual. I welcome the way he blurs gender roles, and takes some of the pressure off women to always be the focus of attention and ‘objects of desire’. Incidentally, I do wonder sometimes why feminists go on so much about ‘objectification’ of women, when, from where I am standing, it seems to be men who are objectified as much as if not more than women these days, and enjoying it. Maybe women are feeling a bit left out? But I don’t like the way the metrosexual presents such a bland, idealised and homogenised version of masculinity. It seems like a lot of pressure for men to be young, buff, fit, well-turned out with perfect hair and skin, 24/7. ‘GTL’ sounds like a very boring way to spend most of your time too. What about art? Music? Creativity? The metrosexual is an ad-man’s dream, always consuming, always improving himself. It’s not really my dream.

Mark Simpson, the ‘Daddy’ of the metrosexual, also admits not feeling total unconditional love for his love-child. ‘After all’ he says, ‘we all want to kill the thing we love from time to time, and sometimes with our bare hands’. Citing a very famous example, he writes:

‘some looking around today at the evidence of untrammelled male self-regard, such as in the petulant, impossibly pretty, not to mention unforgivably, unapologetically talented, famous and wealthy form of a Cristiano Ronaldo, might say that male metrosexuality was an urge that really did need to be repressed’.

But I think overall I am with Simpson in my grudging celebration of metrosexuality, mainly because he writes so well. He makes Metrosexuality seem, well, sexy! But, more seriously, I accept and welcome his arguments because he shows clearly how metrosexuality represents ‘the end of sexuality’ altogether in many ways. He explains how it goes hand in hand with a relaxing of boundaries around men’s social identities and behaviours, including a lessening of homophobia:

‘The rise of male behaviours, practices and tastes that has been characterised as metrosexual has been made possible in large part by the decline in the stigma attached to male homosexuality. While this stigma made life rather difficult for homosexual men, it also had an instructive, not to say repressive, effect on all men.’

This is probably the clue to why some people still resist ‘metrosexuality’ even whilst it is shoving its pretty ass in our faces. Metrosexuality goes ‘hand in hand with male bi-curiousness’ says Simpson, enabling men to reject the ‘straitjacket’ that compulsory heterosexual masculinity has traditionally imposed upon them. Even though homophobia is not so influential in society today, the concept of the fluidity of men’s sexual expression is still seen as a threat, to what it means for some, to be ‘a man’. But the more people deny this aspect of metrosexual masculinity, the more it flutters its eyelashes at them and smiles charmingly. You can run, basically, but you can’t hide.

Despite my misgivings, then, I accept Mark’s conclusion that

‘love him or loathe him, or call him by any other name, the metrosexual and the bronzed new masculine world of self-regard he represents, is here to stay. And look pretty. And, since he really, really wants us to, we should probably admire him.
Even if he is such a tart’.

Metrosexy is out now on Amazon Kindle

Review by Quiet Riot Girl

More information available from: Mark Simpson

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Whittaker Chambers

This week I decided to try some heavier reading, Witness (1952) by Whittaker Chambers. I'd read Ann Coulter's description of the 1948 trial of Alger Hiss, a State Department official and communist spy convicted of perjury by Chambers' testimony. I was hoping for an explanation of the fanatical devotion communism inspires. I understand and somewhat agree with Chambers' explanation. "It is the vision of man's mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man's liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man's destiny and reorganizing man's life and the world." To me that seems too abstract to account for it. I suspect my friend JM became a communist out of nothing more principled than adolescent rebellion. His father was a Republican career military man and borderline abusive to JM. My other communist friends had similar family backgrounds. Although I was against socialism and communism, I sympathized because I was a liberal for the same reason, to distance myself from my conservative redneck upbringing. Chambers also interests me because he went from being a communist spy to a conservative Christian. Leaving the communist underground endangered him and his family. The consequences of helping to uncover the full extent of Soviet infiltration in the US government continued to haunt him until his death in 1961. I admire his courage and the quality of his writing. He believed that, although freedom is obviously the nobler cause, communism is almost certain to triumph eventually. Too bad he didn't live to see the end of the Cold War. In 1984 President Ronald Reagan awarded him a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Korean Talmud?

This story sounds like it was written for April Fool's Day but it wasn't. For years a Korean translation of excerpts from the Talmud has been a bestseller in South Korea. Mothers read it to their children, believing it will make them smarter. "We tried to understand why the Jews are geniuses, and we came to the conclusion that it is because they study Talmud," said the Korean ambassador to Israel. This belief has become so widespread that the government made it a mandatory part of the national school curriculum. Here's a manga example in English of how the Koreans are using it.
This Korean Talmud was probably translated from a Japanese translation by an American rabbi, Marvin Tokayer, when he visited Japan in 1970. He translated the passages he thought would be most culturally relevant to the Japanese.

More details about the Korean Talmud at The Elder of Zion. "As far as I can tell, the Koreans think that the brief snippets of translation they have access to is the Talmud. They do not seem to understand what the Talmud really is, hence the confusion about so many Korean people think they own copies of the Talmud."

The whole Talmud is around 30 encyclopedia-size volumes. It consists of often contradictory opinions, arranged like dialogs, on every detail of Jewish law, along with proverbs and rabbinic folktales. Studying Talmud does sharpen the mind. The Koreans latched onto that idea, having no idea how far removed their slender book of translated excerpts is from the real thing. Most of the Talmud is only available in Hebrew. Studying it requires years of studying Hebrew, Torah and commentaries. Although the Korean Talmud craze is silly, their admiration for Jewish genius is a refreshing change from Moslem hatred of the Jews and nonstop Israel-bashing in Euro-American mainstream news media and academia.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"The Nine Billion Names of Khadaffi"

Thank God for clever political satire! Arthur C Clarke's short story "The Nine Billion Names of God" is one the first works of adult scifi I can remember reading. With Libya in the news so often lately, I am heartily amused at the dozens of different spellings I've seen for Moamar Kadafi's name. A writer at one of my favorite political blogs managed to combine these two topics in "The Nine Billion Names of Khadaffi".

For those who are persnickety about pronouncing and spelling foreign names correctly, I recommend Mo‘amar al-Qadhafi. Other reasonable alternatives are Mo‘amar al-Kadhafi and Moamar al-Kadhafi. Y on the end is okay, since in English spelling it's customary to use Y at the end of a word for the E sound as in "beet'. Khadafi and G(h)adafi are wrong, unless Libyan Arabic pronunciation differs greatly from Arabian pronunciation. I have no idea why most Euro-Americans omit the "al-" prefix.

The redneck accent

My guess is that the western redneck accent was originally an Inland South accent, possibly from the Ozarks or thereabouts. Very odd how it ended up in rural areas and small towns all over the same region as the national standard West accent. It might predate the West accent.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

US regional accents

This American accents quiz identified my accent as West and describes it thus.
Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.
Their description of the Midland accent is similar, "Most people think you don't have an accent". About the only difference is the vowel sounds in word pairs such as "Don" and "dawn", or "cot" and "caught". They're different in Midland, they're homophones in West. The West accent region is the entire western third of the US. It originated in the mixing of accents during the Westward Expansion. It's characterized more by the absence of the distinctive traits of other accents than by any distinctive features of its own. It really is the generic American accent which helped make it the national standard.

Some people where I grew up have an accent which sounds almost Texan. I don't know what dialect linguists call it. I call it the redneck accent. Lots of rural and small town people all over the western US have it. Some of my relatives have it to varying degrees. I never had it. Maybe I dodged it by having friends, teachers and classmates without it. In elementary school in Cedaredge, CO only a few kids had the redneck accent and they were all from poor families. In Quemado, NM the the redneck accent was more common and didn't correlate as much with social class. Here's a good example of it. Cowboy poet and retired large animal veterinarian Baxter Black grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and lived his whole life in the Southwest. I like his voice and his stories. I used to listen to them on public radio. Nice to know they're available on YouTube now.

UK regional accents

Re Phil Rickman's novels, one frustrating detail of novels set in the UK, the frequent references to the characters' local accents. I know Britain has dozens of them. It's frustrating to me as an amateur linguist that I have no idea what most of them sound like. I found the International Dialects of English Archive with audio samples. I concentrated on accents I'd heard were particularly looked down on and/or hard to understand, e.g. Birmingham, Scouse, Yorkshire, Glasgow. All the accents I listened to seemed fairly mild to me, easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. Some sounded familiar from British TV shows, mostly from Monty Python. So far there's no British accent I like more than others. So far North London is the only one I dislike, because the th>f/v shift sounds like baby talk. I searched YouTube for British accent videos which were a little help. I was amused at the stereotypes about some accents and the flame wars in the comments about the people in the videos getting the accents wrong. The British are much more obsessed with accents than Americans are.

All the IDEA Scottish samples I listened to sounded like the same generic Scottish accent to me. On YouTube I found some samples of the industrial strength Glaswegian accent. The rumors are true! It's hard to understand and makes them sound deranged, but I'm quite fond of it. This cute scruffy cub gives lessons on how to speak it. By lesson #3 his grooming and video making skills improved a lot. That lesson's topic is profanity, with one of the longest streams of foul language I've ever heard, still hilarious. The first two lessons and his other videos are more G to PG rated.


For two months I've been reading the Merrily Watkins mystery novels by Phil Rickman. They're all excellent. I highly recommend them. Merrily is the first woman vicar in a village in Herefordshire, England. In the second novel she also becomes the diocese's exorcist. All of the plots involve paranormal phenomena. Some of them turn out to be hoaxes, others not. It's intriguing that Rickman never explains whether the possibly paranormal phenomena are supernatural beings or powers, psychic visions, dreams or hallucinations. He only hints that they're probably psychic visions. The deliberate ambiguity is frustrating but it's part of the plot and well handled.

Technically Merrily isn't an exorcist, she's in charge of "deliverance ministries". When I first heard the term deliverance ministry I thought it was a ridiculous euphemism probably invented by a public relations consultant. Now that I know it also involves investigation, psychology, prayer and rites less drastic than exorcism, the name seems more appropriate to me. I still think it's an unfortunate word choice, because every time I come across the word "deliverance" the first thing I think of is the psychopath hillbillies in the movie Deliverance. So do lots of other people. Definitely not something you want to remind people of while ministering to them about scary possibly paranormal stuff. Less of a problem in the UK where fewer people are familiar with the movie, I suppose. I couldn't find the origin of the phrase. It might have been coined by US Protestant charismatics soon after the movie The Exorcist (1973) premiered. That's when the first non-fiction books on the subject were published for the general public. Although I don't believe in ghosts and demons, Phil Rickman's books give me more respect for clergy who deal with problems of that nature.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Metro bus cake

A Seattle Metro bus birthday cake for a 2 year old boy who loves buses.
Hat tip to Boing Boing. For me riding Metro is convenient but dull most of the time. Usually the only bus riding activities I enjoy are admiring good looking men and overhearing wacky conversations. It's been years since I've overheard a good one. The most fun I had on a bus ride was meeting a cute shyly friendly 1-2 year old boy. Every time I looked in his direction, he smiled and waved at me. So I smiled and waved back. After a while he started whistling like a little bird when he waved. His mom didn't seem to mind so we continued doing it for a couple of miles until we reached their stop. One of the strangest things that happened to me on a bus. Although the bus was 3/4 empty, a young black woman sat next to me, put her head on my shoulder and fell asleep. It was pre-dawn, chilly weather. She was dressed like a prostitute. No coat. Her halter top, hot pants and nail polish were all the same shade of sky blue. I was sitting on the inside seat so I had to nudge her to wake up and let me out when the bus was getting near my stop. The worst things about riding the bus: scary crazy people, drunks, loudmouths and women who wear too much allergenic perfume.

Monday, December 20, 2010

New Mexico and me

I added Buck's blog to my blogroll because he was kind enough to stop by and post a comment to my entry about Japanese and manga. His blog was the source of the Wong Fook Hing Bookstore photo and joke I posted below. I used to read his blog but lost track of it a few years ago. It caught my attention because he lives in Portales, New Mexico.

Until I was five my parents lived in Burntwater near Sanders in northeast Arizona. I was born in Gallup NM because it had the nearest hospital. We lived in Cedaredge, a small town in southwest Colorado, while I was elementary school. We lived in Quemado, a tiny town in west central NM, while I was in junior high and high school. In 1977 or 78 I spent two days in Portales. We were there to watch the high school state volleyball championship hosted by ENMU. Our girls won first place in the single A division. On the same trip we drove to Clovis and spent a few hours wandering around downtown.

I moved to Albuquerque in 1981 to attend UNM. I graduated in 1985. Except for one semester in Boulder, Colorado, I stayed in Albuquerque, worked at UNM and attended classes part time from 1985 to 1989, when I moved to Seattle.

Japanese homophones

Homophones, also called homonyms, are words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings and spellings.

Googling for manga in Japanese is quite a challenge since I can barely read Japanese. I found this website with online copies of Mangajin, a US English-language magazine for teaching Japanese via manga. I highly recommend it. Mangajin is similar to the textbook series Japanese In Mangaland by Marc Bernabe (vol 1, 2, 3), but more strongly emphasizes polite Japanese. It's difficult for foreigners who study Korean or Japanese to get used to the fact that in those languages you can accidentally insult someone just by using the wrong verb suffix. One Mangajin article said that's why Japanese profanity is so mild in comparison to other languages.

Mangajin has a bloopers column about mistranslations. This one (bottom right corner) interested me because it involves Japanese homophones. Japanese has so many homophones because of its unusually small sound inventory and unusually simple syllable structure. Also because they borrowed so many kanji and simplified their Chinese pronunciations. Japanese has so many kanji homophones they're a serious problem. When kanji homophones cause confusion in spoken Japanese, people have to stop and explain which kanji they meant or write them for the other person. 

Business cards are more important in Japan than other countries for linguistic reasons as well as etiquette reasons. When people who don't have business cards meet someone new, they jot down the kanji for their names on paper. If no writing materials are available, they trace them in the air or on the palms of their hands. Recently I realized they do these things because there are many more homophone kanji in personal names than in place names, common nouns and other parts of speech. I discovered that some of the most common Japanese surnames and given names can be written with dozens of different kanji combinations, sometimes more than a hundred possible combinations for one name. My wild guess is that they ended up with so many more homophone kanji in personal names because the Japanese government has been more lenient about reforming kanji usage there, to avoid offending people by telling them they have to change rare archaic kanji in their names to ones that are on the official approved list. Still, that explanation hardly seems adequate. One of the side effects of this bizarre extra confusion about kanji in personal names: at places where people sign in and wait for their names to be called, they have to write their names in katakana instead of kanji so the staff will know how to pronounce them.

Kanji which aren't on the official approved list are supposed to be written in hiragana if they're easy to understand when spoken, or to be accompanied by furigana to show their pronunciations. For official purposes, Japanese personal names and place names are written only in kanji, so replacing them with hiragana is not an option. Japanese people writing their names in katakana, not hiragana, when they sign in is like writing in block letters instead of cursive in English. I wonder if Japanese people ever get tired of dealing with the problems caused by their writing system.