Category: Language

101

Nazism

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So, if you're a grammar Nazi, then feats of form and usage that strike you as "wrong" (or inferior, or jarring) fairly leap off the page or screen at you in just the same way that my use of "so" at the start of this sentence irks all who are by now fed up with hearing that word abused that way.

The French have an expression for obvious things and especially for things obviously wrong: ça saute aux yeux! That leaps out at the eyes! Like an eye-attacking deathfrog of death. Or blindness. Or blinding obviousness.

Many folks notice deviations from canonical grammar and usage; the Nazi is the one who sees most or all, all the time, until she's fed up. She feels welling up within her an urgent, primal cry in behalf of the norms she has embraced, the quirky irrationales of the tongues to which she's wedded. The Nazi is the one for whom, involuntarily, cela saute aux yeux. Finally, with eggshell sensitivity to the descriptivists and positivists, she pipes up: "perhaps you should reconsider using 'begs the question' in that way." Then she ducks.

Have you been watching the newish BBC series Sherlock? I enjoyed the Holmes stories as a child but wasn't passionate about them. I enjoyed them again as an adult with the same result, but with an admixture of pity and contempt for the racism, sexism, inconsistency, and lack of complexity. I enjoyed them (despite these and other flaws) because they project a world and an ill-fitting inhabitant of that world, and they spark the imagination to consider how that combination might play out– a worthwhile exercise (especially for the logically inclined).

I grew up in a time when Basil Rathbone was the archetypal realization of Sherlock. And his bumbling Watson, who had so little to do with the character described in Doyle, was the archetypal moronic foil. I watched the fading films, but I wasn't married to that realization. Years later, I tried to watch Jeremy Brett's Sherlock– many consider it definitive– but couldn't stomach his interpretation. I didn't reject it because Rathbone; I rejected it because reading. That Sherlockian series aimed within a reasonable margin to be faithful to the canon, so Brett's Holmes is one reader's way of expressing what he found there. What he found, however legitimately derived, isn't what I had found.

The Sherlock of Robert Downey, Jr? Uhm… nice Wing Chun. And I haven't seen Elementary. And I skipped House. (See? Hardly a passionate Irregular.)

The BBC's Sherlock, now entering its fourth season, doesn't aim to stay faithful to the canonical stories; it aims to stay aware of them, and to show this, while re-envisioning the series in a contemporary setting. In this respect, its fidelity is like that of the more recent Battlestar Galactica vis-à-vis the less recent one. And it's brilliant. Often contrived, but then so were the Doyle tales. Sometimes hilarious, always well acted, often clever. Fragmented for the postmodernists, ironic for the Xers, savvy for the millennials. It's a lot of fun.

The show is, among other things, a fabric of in-jokes and allusions, some of them reaching forward within the reimagined world and some reaching out and back toward its Victorian antecedent. That the "Sign of Four" becomes the "Sign of Three" is reaching back; how it does so is reaching forward. That extra layer of literary texture provides a lot of the pleasure.

A recurring motif in Sherlock is that facts and inferences from them jump out nearly involuntarily at Sherlock. Cela saute aux yeux! And the show makes this clear in a medieval way, by literally overlaying text on the screen near the things he's observing. (Sometimes, the overlaid text is used for other purposes, such as making clear to the viewer what has just been texted to someone's device regardless of whether Sherlock knows that. This dual use of superimposed content would be interesting to study more systematically if you're looking for a dissertation topic….)

One respect in which this new Sherlock is enjoyable is that he's clearly superhuman; no mnemonist, no prodigy, no abductive reasoner would or could infer and calculate at the pace and in the ways that he does. He's a freak, and he's presented as a freak. ("Do your research! A high-functioning sociopath!"). And this offers another pleasure: in those moments when we, viewers entangled in the quotidian, draw a little inference from a telling detail in real life, we not only feel like Sherspock but participate in his condescension. We rise above our mundane capacity and attain a height from which to criticize (on eggshells). Having tested the tapir, we fling the femur. We enjoy, however briefly, the subtle pleasures of superiority, enforcement, and reproof. (Oxfordian in commas; Stratfordian in dramas.)

For example, we may read the clickbait article How to Fix Open Offices at Fast Company because we have an innocent interest in rolling back the horror. But as soon as we reach the second paragraphette, ça saute aux yeux: "Ferrigan's team ­creates 'enclaves' for collaborative working…" (emphasis added).

We try to proceed, but the solecism will not allow it– not until we've at least privately acknowledged the nature of the blunder, gauged its importance, and decided whether to intervene. Involuntarily, we recognize inferences about the writer that may be drawn with high probability: Didn't study Latin. Doesn't know roots. Mixes Latinate and Germanic irrespective of stylistic effect. Is insensitive to redundancy. Missed the 19th century. Was proofed, if at all, by someone with similar deficits. Doesn't care.

One after another, the phrases float up like on-screen annotations in Sherlock, and they hesitate near the eyes before dissipating. Id and Superego enraged, we begin to start to commence formulating a plan for intervention. Then the ego reels us in, and (wistfully waving farewell to the condescendible moment) we decide that the game that would then be afoot ne vaut pas la chandelle. It wouldn't be received well. Why waste illumination where it's not wanted? Pearls before Quine, but squirrels prefer pine.

Fine. Annihilate all stylistic norms. Wallow in your positivism. At this point, what difference does it make? I will diminish and go into the west.

That's one example, but if you're a grammar or usage Nazi, you don't need me to tell you that the occasions proliferate, especially among members of generation whippersnapper.

Correction offers a brief high, but a potent one. It's too engaging, too consuming, to allow oneself to be carried away with every noted blunder. Too indulgent. Here's my advice: offer a solution only seven percent of the time. And that's final.

Terminology and connotations

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The documents were taken from at least 24 supersecret compartments that stored them on computers, each of which required a password that a perpetrator had to steal or borrow, or forge an encryption key to bypass.

Once Mr. Snowden breached security at the Hawaii facility, in mid-April of 2013, he planted robotic programs called "spiders" to "scrape" specifically targeted documents.

This excerpt from Edward Jay Epstein's WSJ article sounds awfully sinister and, well, advanced. Not just compartments, but supersecret, Houdini-defying compartments! Except that "supersecret" just means "above secret"– top secret — and "compartments" aren't physical devices but logical, taxonomic infosec categories.

But robotic programs, of all things… in fact, robotic spiders! Oh, wait. He's talking about mundane bulk copy utilities and scrapers. Nevermind.

However one feels about Snowden's ideological self-presentation and whatever case can be made that he was/is under the control of foreign intelligence entities and using whistleblowing as a cover, I don't think this sort of rhetorical obfuscation is appropriate. The strength of a case should depend on its substance and validity, not on frosting applied through orc mischief or ignorance.

Somewhere In The Happy Hunting Grounds, Paul Mirengoff Is Smiling

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You would think that James Meggesto, of powerhouse law firm Akin Gump's Native American lobbying practice, would know better than most that a poorly worded joke on the internet can ruin a career, given that Meggesto used a poorly worded joke to ruin Paul Mirengoff's career two years ago.

You would think.

(Via Above the Law, which observes: "For the record, when a tweet opens with “Resisting urge to tweet…”, you’ve failed.")

Edit:

To elaborate on why this is a big deal:

In his tweet, Meggesto, a lawyer representing clients with interests adverse to those of the witness, called the witness a liar, as the witness was testifying before Congress. This probably isn't actionable libel, as it fails to identify a false statement, and fails to name a time and place. If Meggesto had said, "the witness is lying right now, before Congress, as I tweet this," Meggesto would be in very hot water. Meggesto didn't quite accuse the witness of perjury, but he came close.

Meggesto's tweet also dances around the edges of the codes of ethics that govern attorneys. An attorney may not accuse a sworn witness in an adversarial proceeding of lying. There are many reasons for this, including decorum, respect for the court, and respect for witnesses, but the main reason, I think, is that a witness so accused cannot seek redress for the accusation: attorneys are generally immune from suit for statements made in an adversarial proceeding, about anyone. For instance, if I said about someone like Meggesto in court: "He isn't a real lawyer, and he doesn't have a real law practice: he only facilitates graft by funneling money to legislators with their hands out," the person of whom I was speaking couldn't sue me for defamation.

But since Meggesto wasn't appearing as an advocate before Congress that day, on that matter, he gets a pass.

By any measure, Meggesto's conduct is sleazy. He did call a sworn witness, appearing before a body with the power to require oaths in a matter adverse to the interests of his clients, a liar. He almost but not quite called him a perjurer, and he insulted a Congressman. Make what jokes about that you will, it's poor form for a man who lobbies Congress to speak ill, in public, of elected representatives.

Finally, and I can say this without fear of reprisal: Meggesto is stupid, a dumb braying ass who, if this is indicative of his intelligence and his character, has no business representing clients before a traffic court judge, much less Congress.

In the New York Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg Gets It Wrong

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Verlyn Klinkenborg has written an op ed called The Decline and Fall of the English Major in which he starts with his students' inability to write and winds up discerning a "literal-mindedness in the recent shift away from the humanities". The apparent goal of the article is to defend the value of the humanities. However, the editorial has two weaknesses that undermine that goal.

The first weakness arises in the attempt to define that value. The author reduces what the humanities offer to mere writing– to clear composition. "They don’t call that skill the humanities. They don’t call it literature. They call it writing," explains Klinkenborg, who also asserts that undergrads do not know "how valuable the most fundamental gift of the humanities will turn out to be. That gift is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature."

So the value proposition of the humanities is reducible to clear thinking, clear writing, and a literary hobby. If that's all the humanities can offer, then why not eliminate every humanistic discipline other than composition and informal logic?

The humanities must be defended, if at all, on a much broader and deeper basis than this. To defend them merely because they build communication skills is to provide a tacit argument for superseding them with more efficient means toward that goal.

This fault in the editorial is joined to another. Klinkenborg writes: "…a certain literal-mindedness in the recent shift away from the humanities… suggests a number of things. One, the rush to make education pay off presupposes that only the most immediately applicable skills are worth acquiring…. Two, the humanities often do a bad job of explaining why the humanities matter. And three, the humanities often do a bad job of teaching the humanities. You don’t have to choose only one of these explanations. All three apply."

Whether these are genuine faults or merely perceived ones hardly matters in view of one overriding concern: if the humanities are so excellent at developing clear thought and clear verbal expression, then why do "the humanities… do a bad job of explaining" their value, and why do "the humanities… do a bad job of teaching the humanities"?

It seems reasonable that if the value proposition of the humanities consists of "clear thought and expression", then explaining the value of, and teaching, the humanities should be a slam dunk (and should be perceived as such). But if "the humanities" do a poor job of explaining their value and communicating their methods, then why believe in the first place that effective communication is a likely outcome of humanistic education?

Note– I'm all in favor of the humanities. Because of my humanistic education, I look askance on weak arguments and outright contradictions. For this reason, I don't like to see the humanities defended by a reduction to "clear thinking and writing" on the one hand and, on the other, by a contradiction of their efficacy at precisely that juncture.

Fifty Shades of Wéi (喂): Pronunciation

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"Not that there's anything wǎng (往) with that…."

There's no denying it: Chinese is a language full of homophones. And this profusion of words that sound alike but have different meanings can be confusing. But fear not! In the previous post in this series, I offered some reassurance: Mandarin grammar is easy. In that same spirit of optimism and oversimplification, I will now explain why the daunting abundance of homophones is a price well worth paying given what it buys: a simple system of pronuncation.

My main goal is to explain Mandarin pronunciation informally, so I will avoid linguistic terminology and fine distinctions. Words such as "alveolar", "plosive", "labio-dental", and "velar" occur only in this sentence, so you're past them now. (ht2mp) My subsidiary goal is to harvest corrections, so bring 'em on!

There have been many systems for transcribing Chinese sounds into languages that use the Latin alphabet, but there's no question that the dominant, standard system today is Pinyin. Googling "pinyin chart" in your preferred search engine will yield many examples of the conventional Pinyin table, which is a 2-dimensional grid of syllables. My favorite software for associating these syllables with sounds is the downloadable Pinyin Chart from ChinesePod.com.

For pedagogical reasons, I have rearranged the Pinyin table and annotated it. Here's my cheat sheet as a PDF. And here it is as a JPG:

Pinyin Chart Rearranged

I'll refer to it a few times below. (more…)

Fifty Shades of Wèi (喂): Grammar

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"It was my understanding that there would be no Mandarin."

If you find yourself thinking this, gentle Popehat reader, well… 不对! For I am a language nerd, and recently I've been nerding out on Modern Standard Chinese (as the PC crowd call it) because I wanted to climb the mysterious, misty peaks of the Northern Song, and do that non-suicidal magical fog dive thing from the end of Crouching Tiger, and lose myself for a time in the coursing waters of the Yangtze River. I wanted difficulty. I wanted to say 'friend' and still not enter.

Well, if you've heard that Mandarin is nearly impossibly difficult for the Unitedstatesian mouth and ear and eye, then I'm here to tell you that everything you've heard is a lie. That's right– a lie. It's lies all the way down. An infinite regress of anti-truth. Mandarin, it turns out, is easy!

To be a bit more accurate: the grammar is astonishingly simple (all things considered), and the pronunciation patterns are a middling challenge, but the writing system is stultifyingly hard. Nate Silver tells me that when you average these, you get "easy".

I'm operating on the theory that some of you also may be ponderin' the Pǔtōnghuà, or that some of you may have kids in Mandarin immersion and may want to keep up with them, or that some of you, way beyond a rank beginner such as I, may be willing to share your more advanced tips and insights. On that theory, I want to let you know some of what I've learned so far.

In particular, I want to give (0) this introduction emphasizing that the grammar is well within reach, (1) a newbie's guide to the pronunciation of Mandarin, (2) a quick and dirty intro to how the characters work and how to learn them, and (3) an overview of some of the better online resources at Youtube and elsewhere. My goal is not to gather and dump as much info as possible, but rather to summarize only the essential facts and opinions that make the way easier for a beginner. From there, of course, the road goes ever on and on, and I'm not qualified to navigate that path.

So…. Hankerin' for some hàn zì? Ready to get Zhōngwénny wid it?

The Good News: Grammar

First, let's talk about grammar. If you have dabbled in a romance language, then you know about the conjugation of verbs across persons and numbers, about gendered nouns, and about the agreement of adjectives in gender and number with whatever they describe. If you've indulged in Greek or Latin or German or Russian or any other heavily inflected language, then you also know about the wonders of noun declension across cases. And let's not even get into the nuances of time, aspect, tense progression, and counterfactuality.

There comes a point in the study of these language when the lightbulb goes on and the learner realizes in practice what the trivia books had maintained all along: these are all the same language, and so they all work the same way. Well, more or less. Yes, each has its vocabulary and its idioms and its subset of linguistic functionality, but at heart, they're all descendents of the same ancestor of Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit.

All Look Same

In the wake of this enlightenment, one feels the call of the wild. The allure of linguistic isolates, such as Basque and Korean, and the siren song of untraceable languages, such as Hungarian or Japanese or Finnish, become irresistible.

Then there's Mandarin Chinese: simple, logical, beautiful in grammar; maddeningly complex and subtle in expressive capability. And spoken all over the 'verse!

Mandarin has no articles (a, an, the). It has no gender for nouns. It is almost entirely uninflected: each verb has exactly one form that never changes, and each noun has exactly one form, no matter what role it plays in a sentence. For the most part, the difference between singular and plural is not marked. The basic syntax of a simple sentence, as in English, is subject-verb-object, and qualifying phrases packed before the verb or the object follow a logical sequence. Mandarin has no tenses construed as time (past, present, future, past perfect, present perfect, future perfect, etc.); instead it emphasizes aspect (anticipated, continuous, habitual, progressive, completed, etc.) and marks this with a particle. In short, it's simple.

By way of comparison, think about what you have to learn for each verb in French. Consider aimer (to love):

Past, simple aspect: j'aimai, tu aimas, il/elle/on aima, nous aimâmes, vous aimâtes, ils/elles aimèrent
Past, incomplete aspect: j'aimais, tu aimais, il/elle/on aimait, nous aimions, vous aimiez, ils/elles aimaient
Present: j'aime, tu aimes, il/elle/on aime, nous aimons, vous aimez, ils/elles aiment
Future: j'aimerai, tu aimeras, il/elle/on aimera, nous aimerons, vous aimerez, ils/elles aimeront
Past perfect: j'avais aimé, tu avais aimé, il/elle/on avait aimé, nous avions aimé, vous aviez aimé, ils/elles avaient aimé
Present perfect: j'ai aimé, tu as aimé, il/elle/on a aimé, nous avons aimé, vous avez aimé, ils/elles ont aimé
Future perfect:  j'aurai aimé, tu auras aimé, il/elle/on aura aimé, nous aurons aimé, vous aurez aimé, ils/elles auront aimé

A different form of aimer is needed for each person and each number within each time and (for the past) in each aspect. That's the Indo-European way! Now let's consider the Mandarin way:

Given:
He, she, or it: tā
To eat food: chī fàn (吃飯)

Here's the verbal system:
Completed: tā chī fàn le (他 吃飯 了)
Ongoing: tā chī fàn (他 吃飯)
Possible: tā huì chī fàn (他 会 吃飯) [Edited for syntax per comment below. -dcb]

Simple. A modal (huì, sometimes roughly equal to "will") to indicate future possibility and a particle (le) to indicate completed aspect. All else depends on context, not form. See how "tā" (he/she/it) doesn't change? And see how "chī fàn" doesn't change? Of course, there are micro-rules about whether to put the particle right after the verb, or after a clause, or at the end of a complex sentence, or in two places. Most of the time, it's easier simply to say when ("tomorrow", "yesterday", "someday") than to bother with aspect particles. But still, how much simpler it is to learn that than to learn the literary tenses of French!

By the way, there's an expression, "chī bǎo le ma" (吃饱了吗), that literally means "Have you eaten your fill?" But it's used as a routine greeting in rural China in much the same way that "Grüß Gott" ("Say 'hi' to God!") is used in the boonies of Bavaria. It has approximately the same flavor as "How's it goin'?"

Anyhow, behold the lack of mutability:

I see you done. You see I done.
I see you. You see I.
I will see you. You will see I.

I see it. It see I. You see it. It see you.

And let's talk about "to be":

English: am, are, is, was, were, shall be, will be, have been, had been, will have been, to be
Mandarin:  shì (是)

In any event, Mandarin uses "to be" much less frequently than English does. It depends instead on juxtaposition and intelligence.

So if Chinese grammar does not require bulk memorization (or deduction) of nouns and verbs in their various forms, then what is there to learn besides vocabulary? Well, there are some syntax rules about when to mention the time, place, and method of an action. So, for example, there's a subject-when-where-how-verb pattern: I around five pm at the restaurant with my wife dine. (Not too far from German or Latin, really.) And there are various ways to express durations. And there are many formulaic ways to express the speaker's attitude toward the topic at hand. And there are particles to indicate causal relationships.

There are charmingly logical idiomatic patterns. For example, Mandarin famously has no direct equivalent of "yes" and "no", but instead relies on repeating or negating the verb in question (or providing multiple-choice options!):

Q: "Is that the new model?"
A: "Is."
Q: "You have|not-have an iPad Mini?"
A: "Not-have."

Perhaps the most important grammatical feature that distinguishes beginners like me from folks who know what they're doing is Mandarin's abundant use of "classifier" or "measure" words. We have these in English, but they're uncommon. They're words like "blade" in the expression "a blade of grass" or like "pair" in "a pair of pants". No idiomatic speaker of English would ever refer to "a grass" or "a pants". (Note: this is different from collective nouns such as an "exaltation of larks" or a "pride of lions", since larks and lions can be referenced properly on their own.)

Well, Mandarin has a bucketload of these, some referring to things bound like scrolls/books, some referring to anything rectangular and medium-sized, and so forth. A pack, a cup, a box, a piece, a crowd, a pair, a set, a kind — similar to English, these– but also a word for things with handles, for things bound by string, for items of correspondence, for rooms, for articles of clothing, for wheeled things, for stick-like things, and even for large, permanent things! The correct use of them is a big deal.

There are some other grammatical formulations that are easy to learn but different from English. For example, some verbs come automatically with a meaningless default direct object, even if it's not the object you mean. "To eat", for example, is "eat rice" even if you're not eating rice. (See chī fàn above!) "To read" is "read book" unless you specify some other object, and "to sing" is "sing song", and "to run" is "run step". There's also a strong tendency to order things from large to small, from earlier to later, from logically prior to consequent, and so forth. And, most cool, Mandarin includes many four-character sayings that are part of the common culture; the more of these one understands, the better. But more on those in another post.

Despite many small rules, Mandarin is left within reach of us langnerds by its startling lack of many of the big rules that we have come to expect if we've spent time mainly with languages that have them. Throwing them out at no cost is indeed refreshing.

credo ut intelligam, ambulo ut legam

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Here's my favorite name for a dead-end street in France. I respect its current and former intellectual humility, and I celebrate its medievalizing wit.

l'Impasse de la Trinité (formerly l'Impasse de la Résurrection)

Damn And Blast

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I've been reading the Great American Novel for the second time.  Now most Great American Novels are accessible to bright teens, or youngsters in their 20s, but I'm convinced that the True And Original Great American Novel, Moby Dick, requires a bit of seasoning on the part of its reader for full appreciation.  At the age of 43, I've been in Ishmael's shoes bouncing between jobs.  I've learned not to judge strange people by first impressions, for therein may lurk a Queequeg.  I've suffered the loss of a number of friends and relatives, and I've felt capital-H Hatred approaching that of Ahab for the white whale.

But I still don't understand how, in the English language, "blast" became a euphemism for "damn", a reference that struck me on my second reading.  Moby Dick, as do many others written before the 1960s, contains a wealth of "blasted" people, "blasted" ships, "blasted" storms, and "blasted" whales.

Oddly enough the blasted whales are not damned.  Herman Melville served aboard a New England whaler, and knew his trade. "Blasted" had a technical meaning with respect to whales:

Presently, the vapors in advance slid aside; and there in the distance lay a ship, whose furled sails betokened that some sort of whale must be alongside. As we glided nearer, the stranger showed French colors from his peak; and by the eddying cloud of vulture sea-fowl that circled, and hovered, and swooped around him, it was plain that the whale alongside must be what the fishermen call a blasted whale, that is, a whale that has died unmolested on the sea, and so floated an unappropriated corpse. It may well be conceived, what an unsavory odor such a mass must exhale; worse than an Assyrian city in the plague, when the living are incompetent to bury the departed. So intolerable indeed is it regarded by some, that no cupidity could persuade them to moor alongside of it. Yet are there those who will still do it; notwithstanding the fact that the oil obtained from such subjects is of a very inferior quality, and by no means of the nature of attar-of-rose.

Moby Dick, Ch. 91, The Pequod Meets the Rose Bud.  A "blasted" whale is one that died of natural causes, floating on the buoyancy of gas produced by decay.  Such a whale was to be picked apart by lesser whalers, the buzzards of the sea.  One imagines that such a whale's gas might be flammable, hence "blasted".

But this in no way explains how "blast" became an omnipresent euphemism for "damn".  "Damn" was, in a quainter era, a very foul word, meaning actual damnation to Hell among people who believed in Hell as a literal place.  But why were the Damned "blasted"?

The euphemism was frequently, and may still be today, used in comic books.  But one can hear it in relatively recent movies such as Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and Star Wars.  According to the Partridge Dictionary of Slang, it's a frequent euphemism, also standing in for "bloody", another now quaint term which once had a foul meaning, referring to the blood of Christ.  The earliest reference I can find, according to Webster's, is in the 16th century, but no origin or etymology is provided.

And so I give you a puzzle of linguistic archaeology: How did "blast" become a euphemism for "damn", why did it remain current for so long, and where else in relatively contemporary pop culture can it be found?

HE SAID JEHOVAH! HE SAID JEHOVAH!

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As we've discussed many times before, our friends in Canada have a government with very strong opinions about what opinions are "acceptable" — meaning what opinions may be uttered without prosecution, fines, cease-and-desist orders, and reeducation. It's not to American tastes to create vast bureaucracies with the power to regulate and punish speech based on vague guidelines, but Canada is a sovereign nation, and can do what it wants.

Pity poor Professor Cameron Johnston at York University. He was just trying to make this fundamentally Canadian concept clear to the students in the class he was teaching by giving examples of unacceptable opinions. Really, reminding them that some opinions are unacceptable was, in the Canadian context, an act of great patriotism, akin to starting an American lecture with the Pledge of Allegiance and possibly a barbecue. In the course of being so very Canadian, Prof. Johnston mentioned that the sentiment "all Jews should be sterilized" was "unacceptable."

Regrettably, Professor Johnston doesn't get it.

See, it doesn't matter that he uttered the words in a context — the context of identifying the sort of opinions that are unacceptable to Canada. He still uttered them.

By uttering the words, Prof. Johnston committed speechcrime. That's a strict liability crime; intent is irrelevant. Moreover, in thinking that he could utter a series of offensive words by putting them into a specific disapproving and pedagogical context, Prof. Johnston committed a hate crime against the Moron-Canadian community, which is too stupid to grasp context, and the Entitled-Canadian community, which believes that it is un-Canadian to require them to pay close enough attention to follow context. Prof. Johnston knew or should have known that his class of 450 people would include members of the Moron-Canadian and Entitled-Canadian community.

And indeed it did — in the form of Sarah Grunfeld, a member of the Moron-Insipid-Entitled-Canadian community. Sarah Grunfeld was outraged to hear, sort of, that her professor thought that all Jews should be sterilized, and started quite a stir, complaining to York University officials and various community members. Tumult and inquisition ensued. The Canadian media acted in an appallingly un-Canadian manner, focusing on the so-called "context" of Professor Johnson's words and the utterly irrelevant detail that he was Jewish. Grunfeld, raised by her actions into a position of leadership in the Entitled-, Insipid-, and Moron-Canadian communities, did her best to set them back on the path of right thinking:

Grunfeld said Tuesday she may have misunderstood the context and intent of Johnston’s remarks, but that fact is insignificant.

“The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth, so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”

Grunfeld also expressed skepticism that Johnston was in fact Jewish.

Asked directly by a reporter whether she believes Johnston is lying, she was unclear.

“Whether he is or is not, no one will know,” she said. “. . . Maybe he thought because he is Jewish he can talk smack about other Jews.”

Grunfeld demonstrates that with proper accommodation, Moron-Canadian students are able to learn the most important lessons that modern universities offer, such as the lesson that there is no objective reality. Is the person-object-construct we call "Professor Johnston" Jewish? What a childish question, reflecting a retrograde, linear belief system. Whatever "Professor Johnson" or other social constructs like "The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs" might say, whether the "Johnston" person-object is "Jewish" depends on the shifting perceptions of people like Grunfeld and on advanced scholarship by deep thinkers.

Shockingly, some Jews in Canada are contributing to the continuing wordcrime, failing to cherish Canadian values:

In response, Sheldon Goodman, the GTA Co-Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs issued the following statement:

“Upon hearing of this incident, we immediately contacted York University as well as Professor Johnston directly. While York is currently looking into the matter, it appears that a very unfortunate misunderstanding has taken place. We believe Professor Johnston’s use of an abhorrent statement was intended to demonstrate that some opinions are simply not legitimate. This point was, without ill intentions, taken out of context and circulated in the Jewish community.

“Professor Johnston, himself a member of the Jewish community, may regret his wording but should not see his reputation tarnished. This event is an appropriate reminder that great caution must be exercised before concluding a statement or action is anti-Semitic.”

Sheldon "Goodman" doesn't get it. He's focused on "context." He's using "logic" and "inquiry." He might as well come right out and label Sarah Grunfeld and all the members of her dull-witted inattentive community as second-class citizens. Fortunately there are other Jewish-Canadians who are better assimilated into Canadian values. B'nai Brith of Canada, which has a record of supporting Canadian values about speech, is fully supporting the Moron-Canadian community by running Sarah Grunfeld's statement in full. In that statement, she speaks out bravely against all the bigots who wrongfully demanded her to absorb hate-concepts like context, comprehension, and caution:

I stand by my initial concern brought to the University’s attention immediately after the incident that when Professor Cameron Johnston made the abhorrent statement in his class that all Jews should be sterilized, he failed to qualify the statement clearly as an unacceptable opinion held by others. His delivery of this statement, made in a class of 450 impressionable students, was offensive to me and to others in the room.

I have since been grossly misquoted and ridiculed by the media, and attempts have been made to assign blame to me with the false claim that I simply “misheard” or “half heard” what was said. Meanwhile, the professor has not been called to account in any way for his “miscommunication”.

But Sarah's not done. Showing great insight far beyond her years and apparent natural abilities, she identifies what the real crime is here: that people — people like her — will be deterred from making careless, stupid accusations of racism if those accusations are actually subjected to scrutiny, and if the accusers are burdened with hateful responsibility for paying attention to what's going on around them:

It has been a very painful experience for me to see how the university has closed ranks and reneged on its assurances to me. I understand that there may have been a miscommunication, but any miscommunication was on the part of the professor, not me. The media has been complicit in allowing a false interpretation of my actions to be circulated widely, which can only have a chilling effect on the ability of students to have any kind of a voice on campus.

Well said. There ought to be a government inquiry — perhaps by Jennifer Lynch — into whether universities and the media are chilling stupid people from being stupid.

Meanwhile, if Sarah Grunfeld feels that Canada is a cold and barren place that refuses to celebrate her differences, she should consider coming here to America. Sure, we don't have Human Rights Councils like Canada. But there are signs that our universities and their administrators are coming around to Sarah's way of "thinking," and doing what they can to protect the moron community. At Brandeis University, Professor Donald Hindley uttered the word "wetback" in the course of criticizing people who use it; the 50-year teaching veteran was found guilty of racial harassment and forced to admit an ideology-monitor to his class. At Widener University School of Law, administrators are defying a hearing panel that cleared professor Lawrence Connell, and insisting that he be punished for using the term "black folks" in class and using the name of an administrator in an exam hypothetical.

And surely I need not offer you links to establish that modern America is, in fact, very welcoming to morons.

Come on down, Sarah. You've got lots of friends here.

"Likewise, Calling President Obama A 'Spineless, Lying Weasel' Could Engender Memories Of The Days When African-Americans Were Whipped For Lying. And Had Nothing To Eat But Weasels."

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How to criticize Obama without being a racist:  a four step guide from the Daily Kos, which is undergoing a series of "purges" due to accusations of racism against members who, three years later, are having second thoughts about Barack Obama.

Short answer: There are ways to criticize Obama without being a racist (as opposed to being called a racist), and there are negative things that one can say about the man that, objectively, are not racist.  We're just not going to tell you what those are.

A sample:

Do keep in mind that positive references based on Obama's race are generally acceptable. We don't have to always talk about Obama in non-racial terms. After all, whenever we speak of the "historic" nature of his Presidency, it's usually an explicit reference to the fact that he is the first black President. Clearly there's nothing wrong with that.

But even that can get dicey, however, because you open the door to a negative race-based criticism. Some have argued that President Obama cannot confront the Republicans the way many of us would like because he can't afford to fall into the "angry black man" trap. Well, OK, but does that mean that those of us who want a "fighter" for our side as President should never consider voting for a black man?

What happens when dissent arises in the midst of a community that, in large part, defines itself by ad hominem attacks on those who disagree with its political views as racist, fascist, and the like?  A community of which a sizeable number are actively hostile to free speech as an ideal?

The results aren't pretty, but they're amusing.

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WHEN YOU PAY NUBILE GIRLS TO POSE WITH YOUR GUN COLLECTION, you're a dirty old man and a pornographer. When Muammar Gaddafy does it, it's "an attempt to attempt to improve the situation of Libyan women." At least according to Dartmouth professor Dirk Vandewalle.

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READER MICHAEL ZYCHAUS WRITES:

Ever noticed that a man who smashes icons is considered a hero by the bien pensant left? So why is it that a man who burns crosses is considered a terrorist?

Indeed.

All The News That's Fit To … Oh No, Not Again!

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Kids I've flown from one end of this galaxy to the other. I've seen a lot of strange stuff.

But I've never seen anything like this morning's New York Times:

Where a lead story includes references to, well, you'll have to read it yourself but it does include the phrase "Two turds and a golfball," surely a first for The Times.

Yes, it's April Fool's Day, and yes, once again, the New York Times proves that layers of fact-checkers and editors cannot save a dying newspaper industry from its own gullibility. From the need to find the story that fits the narrative, no matter how ludicrous it may be.

During the cultural revolution, figures to be humiliated were made to wear a giant dunce cap of shame. Today, they are given a position at the New York Times.

Never mind that  the man who is the subject of the story does not exist.

Never mind that the story includes giveaways like "over 9,000" and "does not forgive, does not forget."

The story was too good to check. So the Times, which once ran all the news that was fit to print, ran with all the news that fit the Times' preconceptions.  And the result is another humiliation for the Gray Lady of American journalism.  On April Fool's Day, no less.

Unfortunately, today being, as everyone outside the 42nd Street cocoon knows, April Fool's Day and all, the Times has hidden its shame behind a paywall.  I won't link directly to the Times because I'm sure most of our readers haven't paid the toll. But Dr. Westby Fisher has more. Much more.

And screenshots on the way.

Your Friday Afternoon Swears More Than Your Grandfather's Friday Afternoon

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It's time for Waste Your Friday Afternoon, the Popehat feature that seeks to give you an excuse (as if you needed one) to be unproductive.

This week it's all about words, and how they are used.

Google, in its ongoing quest to do vast, unfathomable, and vaguely frightening things, has announced a vast new word database, containing about 500 billion words from about 5.2 million digitized books from the last four centuries. The resulting Books Ngram Viewer lets you plot how frequently words, or names, have been used over the centuries, permitting a glimpse at both language and culture.

You can inquire, for instance: what happens when a previously innocuous word that meant an uncontroversial thing becomes re-purposed to mean a much-talked-about and controversial thing?

Search away.

Word Of The Day: Meretricious

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Meretricious: (adj.) The quality of a prostitute.  Of or pertaining to prostitution.

Why is Meretricious the word of the day?

Because it's a wonderfully insulting word for describing a person, but most people don't know it.  In fact, because the word sounds like "meritorious" or other words pertaining to merit, it's possible, before the right audience, to convince listeners that one has made a malapropism, a humorously ignorant corruption like "refudiate".  In the best of circumstances, use of the word "meretricious" allows one to con another into betraying his or her own ignorance, by "correcting" the speaker.

"You meant to say 'meritorious'".

"No, I did not."

Believe it or not, some people get off on that sort of thing.

As "meretricious" is today's word, I encourage you to use in a sentence.  For example:

Considering candidate Obama's repeated promise to gay and lesbian voters in the Democratic primaries that he would do everything in his power to end federal discrimination against them, President Obama's legal about-face in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" lawsuit, is absolutely meretricious.