Fancy French Phrases Insult My Intelligence

Because I’m bilingual and have a Ph.D., I usually don’t like to criticize people who use “fancy schmancy” vocabulary; after all, I happen to be one of those people.

Nevertheless, one can misuse sophisticated vocabulary and use (or mandate the use of) intelligent-sounding foreign terms when no need exists for it.

That said, I’d like to introduce you to the cooking term “mise en place.”  In English, this translates loosely as “gather all your shit before you start.”  Something so simple and helpful and obvious shouldn’t sound so daunting.

Obvious means obvious.  If you’re making tacos for your family, this means getting all of your ingredients in one place before you cook.   It also means frying the meat and grating the cheese (etc.) before you begin constructing the tacos.

On the other hand, I suppose you could grab your taco shell, then pull your meat from the refrigerator, then cook the meat, then put the meat in the taco shell, then locate and grate your cheese, then realize you forgot lettuce at the grocery store, then chop lettuce when you return from your emergency shopping trip, then find your sour cream, then smell your sour cream to make sure it isn’t expired, then realize that it is expired, then feed it to your cat, then eat the soggy lukewarm taco that has been waiting for you all this time.

"Gathering all your shit before you start" is also useful if you're hosting a party and plan to play bartender.  (Photo credit: Tannaz)

“Gathering all your shit before you start” is also useful if you’re hosting a party and plan to play bartender. (Photo credit: Tannaz)

 

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Relics Insult My Intelligence

People often throw around the word “relic” without giving thought to what they’re saying.  First off, there’s the word’s religious version that refers to the shard of a saint’s bone… among other things.  Then there’s the use of the term to describe something really really old, like this:

When in Rome, roam like the Romans.

One might call this a relic of an ancient civilization.

And then one might refer to an Apple IIe as a technological relic.

And the oldest teacher at your child’s school might be designated a relic as well.

Your dishwasher might also be a relic, though not because of any added respect because of lengthy experience or significance in history.  You probably call it a relic because it’s dead.

And at that point, the word “relic” loses all of its meaning… unless we’re talking about something I own that no longer works properly.  Then it’s a relic because I’m special and, because of that, it’s special too.

Or it would be special if it weren’t broken…

Legalese Insults My Intelligence

The world is beautiful and legalese is not… or at least it usually isn’t.  Contracts should be like poetry.  So… let’s play with an example from the Amazon.com Conditions of Use.

Amazon Poetry

License and Access

Subject
to your compliance
with these Conditions
of Use
and your
payment
of any applicable
fees,

Amazon
or its content
providers
grant you a limited,
non-exclusive,
non-transferable,
non-sublicensable
license to access
and make personal
and non-commercial
use
of the Amazon
Services.

This license
does not include
any
resale or commercial
use
of any Amazon
Service,
or its
contents;
any collection
and use of
any product listings,
descriptions,
or prices;
any derivative
use
of any Amazon
Service
or its contents;
any downloading
or copying of account
information
for the benefit
of another
merchant;
or any use
of data
mining,
robots,
or similar data
gathering
and extraction
tools.

All rights
not expressly
granted
to you
in these Conditions
of Use
or any Service
Terms
are reserved
and retained
by Amazon or its
licensors,
suppliers,
publishers,
rightsholders,
or other content
providers.

No Amazon Service,
nor any part
of any Amazon
Service,
may be
reproduced,
duplicated,
copied,
sold,
resold,
visited,
or otherwise
exploited
for any commercial
purpose
without
express written
consent
of Amazon.

You may not
frame
or utilize framing
techniques
to enclose any
trademark,
logo,
or other proprietary
information (including
images,
text,
page layout,
or form) of Amazon
without express written
consent.

You may not use
any
meta tags
or any other “hidden
text”
utilizing Amazon’s name or
trademarks
without the express written
consent
of Amazon.

You may not
misuse
the Amazon
Services.

You may
use
the Amazon
Services
only as permitted by
law.

The licenses
granted
by Amazon
terminate
if you do not
comply
with these Conditions
of Use
or any Service
Terms.

 

Moral of the story: if a lawyer is ever speaking to you in incomprehensible language, ask him to recite his jargon as a poem.  It’s more understandable that way.  Mostly.

And don’t worry. I’m not legally required to obtain Amazon’s express written consent before making fun of them.

“Goethe” Insults My Intelligence

Everybody loves Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, right?  No?  You’re saying your English teachers thought nothing worthwhile has been written outside of the U.S. and Britain since the ancient Greeks?

That’s a shame, but it’s not uncommon.

Of course, this explains why Goethe’s name inspires so many asinine mispronunciations.  I understand that foreign names can be difficult for folks whose life experience has rarely taken them beyond the English language, but you have to wonder if some people need glasses or a brain transplant.  With that in mind, let’s look at some common errors involving our friendly German literary giant:

Girtha:  Do you see an “R” in Goethe?  Of course not.    Girtha is more like “Bertha’s hips have a lot of girtha.”  I’m not trying to be sexist; Goethe’s hips lacked girtha:

Statue of Goethe in Leipzig, showing his not-so-girthy figure.  (Photo credit: Sebastian Niedlich)

Statue of Goethe in Leipzig, showing his not-so-girthaic figure. (Photo credit: Sebastian Niedlich)

Go eathy:  I’ll go eathy on you too, Mr. Lisp.

Geetha: This sounds like a female geezer.  Goethe may have been a geezer at some point, but female is kind of a stretch.

And if he were Thai, Goethe’s name would be spelled as เกอเธ่.  I could forgive an English speaker for not pronouncing that correctly.

Here’s the correct pronunciation:

Yeah, I know that wasn’t fair; you have to pronounce an ö to get the name right.  Fortunately, no one is policing my blog… unless Vladimir Putin is angry about that gay-themed rainbow image I did of him over the weekend.

Blogger’s Note: If you’re lucky, I’ll be able to field comments on this post.  If I’m lucky, I still have electricity right now.  Goethe is not so lucky because he’s dead.

Stressful Vacations Insult My Intelligence

Polski: Przykład nieporadności stylu urzędnicz...

If this sign were telling you that trespassers would be arrested, would you enjoy your week in prison?  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you visit this blog regularly, you know that I like to travel.  So far, I’ve never been outside of North America and Europe and I hope to expand my horizons (once I find a job and can afford it.)

I’ve found something to love in every country I’ve visited but there’s one detail that always makes travel a million times more enjoyable: knowing the local language.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be the same old tired rant about how native English speakers need to learn more languages.  (I also don’t believe that foreign countries need to have all their signs, menus, etc. translated into English.)  I’m more interested in why a vacation is more fun when you know the language.  A few thoughts:

1- Stress-free use of public transportation.  Western Europe may be pretty easy but Cyrillic-based writing systems are something else.    And Polish is pretty awful too when you’re trying to recognize the name of the station you’re supposed to exit the bus at.  In comparison, even Czech can seem simple to deal with.

Malotranská

Quick… you have 45 seconds before the subway door closes to figure out if this is the right subway stop and make it out the door.  (Photo credit: Guttorm Flatabø)

Subway in Prague

Okay, this starts with an S unlike the other one but it’s hard to keep track of all those accent marks.  Why are all these words so long?  I hope this is right…  (Photo credit: Across the Globe)

2- Non-touristy restaurants and grocery stores, etc.  When a restaurant is located in a tourist area, that restaurant wants its food to taste good to foreigners.  When a restaurant is located in a neighborhood setting, the food will taste good to locals.  Those two aren’t often the same thing; if you want something authentic, you often need to leave the beaten path.  That’s also why you’ll find different Chinese food in the US, China, and other countries.  (If you don’t like vegetables, try Chinese food in Germany.  It’s an experience.)

3- Ability to communicate with people at the hotel/hostel.  With the exception of France and the U.S., most countries encourage tourists who try to speak the local language, even at the most basic and error-prone level.  And they treat you more kindly than they do the people who start up with English and nothing else.  So you get better service.  (I also appreciate the irony that Americans who use “French” as a pejorative are also more likely to treat non-native speakers like the French do.)

4- Ability to understand a menu.  When you can look at a menu in English and in the original language, you realize how bad so many translations are.   If you want to know for sure what you’re eating, know the language.  Euphemisms (among other things) happen in translated menus.

I can understand how the bamboo chicken feels.

I wonder what the food really is…(Photo credit: Wm Jas)

5- Ability to communicate with the police, medical staff, or others in case of emergency.  Or if you get lost…

So get lost!

country name Mongolia in Cyrillic script *scre...

Where am I and why didn’t I get off the train earlier? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Historical Illiteracy Insults My Intelligence

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Language evolves.  For instance, the word “conversation” used to have a sexual connotation while “intercourse” meant something more like conversation.  Let’s be glad the censors aren’t industrious enough to try banning older books with “intercourse” in them.

Unfortunately, the public doesn’t understand how language changes.  Meanings sometimes shift over time; occasionally, such developments happen suddenly.

Soon after September 11, 2001, Americans came to associate the term “ground zero” with the World Trade Center site.  If you say ground zero to almost any American, that’s all that will come to their mind.  The earlier definition was erased: the spot where an atomic or nuclear weapon hits the earth.

But the greatest travesty emerges when the public, in effect, censors old works because they use the term “ground zero” in an “inappropriate” way.  Entire works of art and other cultural products become nothing more than incomprehensible anachronisms as a couple of historical chapters are forgotten.  I’m sure quite a few Japanese (should) take issue with this revision of history and public memory, as should anyone who ever had to “duck and cover.”

But I’m not here to write about Hiroshima and Nagasaki…

I bring you a song from 1986 that was commonly played at Christmastime until “ground zero” took on its new meaning.  Now we don’t hear the song as much.  You’d think that people could tell from the context that the song isn’t about the 9-11 attack site.

On the other hand, I once knew a guy who thought the song “Jesus He Knows Me” by Genesis was a great religious tune because it featured the word “Jesus.”  So one probably can’t realistically expect people to pay attention to anything more than a keyword or two.

Anyway, the video is below.  Since stores will be putting up their Christmas decorations in a few weeks, let’s have some Cold War holiday fun.

Dictionaries Insult My Intelligence

Patty, the Boobs

This person might be a boob. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was originally going to write a post about stupid people called “Boobs Insult My Intelligence.” However, a funny thing happened on my way to the publish button.

I went to dictionary.com to make sure I was using the word “boob” correctly; I rarely, if ever, hear the word used with its “stupid person” definition.  It turns out that my usage was correct but I discovered that dictionaries have apparently gone through some inappropriate sensitivity training.

According to every dictionary on that website, the reference to female anatomy is listed as the second definition or lower.  (Reminder: the first definition a dictionary lists is supposed to be the word’s most typical usage.)  The first definition for “boob” is always something to the effect of “a stupid person.”

That can’t be right.  If you ask 100 people to define  “boob,” “stupid person” will not enter their minds immediately.

But there’s more!

Etymologically, “boob” originates from “booby.”  Once again, the first definition given for booby is “stupid person.”  In the dictionary based on the 2013 Random House, this other meaning also appears in the first entry for “booby” (and the anatomical slang doesn’t appear until the second entry):

a gannet of the genus Sula,  having a bright bill, bright feet, or both: some are endangered.

The Collins English Dictionary tells us that “booby” can refer to a stupid person, but here are the other two definitions:

2- ( Brit ) the losing player in a game

3- Compare gannet any of several tropical marine birds of the genus Sula : family Sulidae, order Pelecaniformes  (pelicans, cormorants, etc). They have a straight stout bill and the plumage is white with darker markings

English: Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) on the G...

Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) on the Galapagos Islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Collins does not mention anatomy at all.

I realize that “boob” and “booby” are not appropriate terms to use in everyday conversation when referencing a woman’s body… and rightly so.  Still, I find it odd that the most commonly used definition of these words is buried under much less prevalent meanings.  And that’s when the anatomical reference didn’t completely disappear from the dictionary’s listings.

It’s now time for the moral of the story.   Actually, I have three of them for you:

1- You can’t remove an offensive word from the language by removing it from the dictionary.  The word becomes conspicuous through its absence and people will talk about it when they normally wouldn’t.  For example: me, right now.

2- You can’t remove an offensive word from people’s minds by prohibiting its use in polite conversation.  Although I’m writing this post as a serious observation about dictionaries, I’m sure my constant use of the word “boob” will attract substantial snickering… as will the first picture in this post.

3- Dictionaries can be fascinating even when they insult your intelligence… unless you’re a boob.