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Links 1 through 10 of 56 by Shaun Green tagged language

Such a period of struggling with a new language is especially good for training oneself to be seriously comparative, because there is not yet any automatic translation of foreign words into the language in your head. You gradually get to know enough to notice more, and yet you are still an outsider. If you then stay on long enough, things get taken for granted again, as they were back home, and you tend to be much less curious and observant than before – you start to say to yourself: ‘I know Indonesia inside out.’ The point being that good comparisons often come from the experience of strangeness and absences.

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The language of gender and sexuality has evolved with almost unprecedented speed over the last few decades and new conceptual iterations seems to generate more and more political heat as words are fought over by people with different needs and ideas. If the limits of our shared language mean the limits of our world then the battle to control the conceptual underpinnings of our language is also the battle to control our world. Directed by Kim Longinotto and Jano Williams, Shinjuku Boys is a documentary about a group of people who were assigned female at birth but identify more closely with the male gender than the female. Made all the way back in 1995, I am sure that many of the terms used in this documentary are horrendously outdated but while Shinjuku Boys may struggle with its pronouns, it does show how people will continue to perform and negotiate their genders even when words fails them.

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Aristotle was surely onto something when he emphasised how central the perception of likeness was to metaphor: successful metaphors – which is to say those that last – are more than performances of disjunction. The process of conjoining different objects or concepts may generate a degree of lexical and conceptual turbulence, but the turbulence isn’t the whole point. Hamlet’s ‘when we have shuffled off this mortal coil’ doesn’t work as a substitute for ‘when we’re dead’ because of any wide disjunction between tenor and vehicle. It’s almost the opposite: ‘mortal coil’ presses for a direct relationship between tenor and vehicle by suggesting that the ‘coil’, or turmoil of life, is already deadly. ‘Shuffle off’ tends in around 1600 to imply ‘sidling away from a sacred responsibility’, so Hamlet’s way of describing death suggests that living may be hard and noisy but it’s what you’re supposed to do, and getting out early is a kind of shirking.

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A truer British value would be hypocrisy. Thatcher was protecting Keith Joseph’s free speech while simultaneously making CND, Irish Republican and trade union protest next to impossible, through a mixture of specific laws, repressive courts and police action. In the early 1930s the police carefully guarded Oswald Mosley while breaking up the marches and meetings of the organised left. In the 1920s, the home secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks justified the prosecution for sedition of Communist Party members by explaining that they had not been engaged in ‘the right type of freedom of speech’ – by which, he told the House of Commons, he meant ‘the right to a full propagation of your opinion, provided you do not try to damage the constitution’. This kind of unconscious bias was probably the reason A.V. Dicey could celebrate the civil libertarian spirit of the common law in 19th-century Britain while glossing over its capacity to crush Irish nationalist dissidence.

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This word, “offense,” is the devil in every detail of every argument and it needs to go. To use it to describe acts of prejudice is to cede much of a hotly contested epistemic field to those only too happy to make the discussion entirely about speech rights rather than material harm. Loathsome as such arguments are, they do contain a basic truth: there is no way to guarantee that one will never be offended, and individual offense ought not be the yardstick by which we measure civil rights and liberties. But then, virtually no one on the feminist or anti-racist Left has been calling for that in the first place. When we discuss being “offended” we are, more often than not, talking about people being hurt in material ways.

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Pursed lipped prudes, who damn others for their sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic language, while doing nothing to confront real injustice, are characteristic figures of our time. As characteristic are well-meaning people abandoning good causes because they cannot take the prudes’ condemnations.

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Being a keen fan of gibberish, I was immediately entranced. Reviewers at the time were left largely nonplussed, however, crudely characterising it as a “racing RPG” and often making inapt comparisons to GTA, a game released seven months prior. From a development perspective, that was not nearly long enough for GTA to have been Vanger’s template, and, beyond the fact you control a vehicle from above, the two games share little structurally, technologically or aesthetically. Vangers is a game principally about perplexed and fearful exploration, a search for meaning in a foetidly gloopy alien world where nothing immediately makes sense, least of all the language. Even today, it’s hard to find an analogue. Maybe ACE Team’s weirdo Zeno Clash games get closest to the sort of mental sidestep Vanger’s world and lingo requires: a place with esoteric rules and rituals, an inhuman ecosystem and its own strangely beautiful lexicon to be revealed and understood.

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There's a critique of my earliest post about Charlie Hebdo at Pham Binh's blog.*  The only thing I want to engage with in his piece is this line: "[H]e questioned the use of the term terrorism in what was unquestionably a terrorist attack." Now, of course, if there is one thing I have learned as a writer, it is that one must never question the unquestionable.  To question the unquestionable is deeply irresponsible and liable to lead to incidents in Grosvenor Square.  Nevertheless, Binh's statement implies that he knows what 'terrorism' is and could give an uncontroversial, non-normative definition that any reasonable person could agree on.  If that is the case, he is unjustly languishing in the margins of bloggery, because this is a problem that no government, no academic, and no journalist or think-tank has solved.  'Terrorism' is first and foremost a legal category, and there is no legal interpretation, and no legal definition, that is not fraught with glaring inconsistencies, question-begging and special pleading.  And since law is the dominant form of the dominant ideology, this indeterminacy feeds into other ideological articulations, particularly the social sciences and journalism.

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The use of the word bro is reaching epidemic levels. Now, after The Fast and the Furious and How I Met Your Mother and Breaking Bad, if a show contains more than one male character, they will, at some point, call each other by that name. Online, where cliché is rechristened meme, bro is a natural epithet: "Come at me, bro," or "Don't tase me, bro." Among writers who are trying to be funny, the word has morphed into a series of fused words—comic portmanteaus (portmanbros, if you insist) that have launched a full-on brocabulary: brogrammers, for young male computer programmers; brostep, a white-male version of dubstep; and curlbros, for bros who spend too much time on their biceps. Subject to intense semantic distortion and fluctuation, the word bro is slippery, but one feature of its use and abuse remains constant: the underlying contempt for male friendship it implies.

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Metalepsis (from Greek μετάληψις) is a figure of speech in which a word or a phrase from figurative speech is used in a new context.

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