Thursday, May 04, 2006

French Citizens React to the Widespread Use of the Word "Le Weekend" 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comOr maybe that's when Hitler is marching through. I can never remember. The other day I heard a colleague speaking softly into the phone. Although his voice was very low, I detected the words “hoe,” “bitch,” and “pimp.”

He saw my eyes widen. When he finished the call he explained that the sweetest old lady had asked him to read the lyrics for the Academy Award winning song, “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp.” He warned her that its lyrics were explicit, but she said that she didn't care, and that he was to read every word to her. I wonder if it’s the same patron I get occasionally who likes for me to read the definitions of various neologisms and slang words to her. Her curiosity and appreciation for the words are really delightful, and I always have a lot of fun answering her questions, and with the discussions that often result. On one phone call she asked me to define:

Jarhead: Slang for a Marine, stemming from when the Mason Jar company got the government contract to make helmets in WWII.

Bling bling: Flashy jewelry. “ I love this word’s onomatopoeic quality.” “It’s like you can just hear the ropes of precious metal striking against each other and see them glint in the sun!”

Bootylicious: A portmanteau of booty (buttocks) and delicious and it means having strong sexual appeal. Another descriptive, rich word, if kind of vulgar.

While I described the meaning of the word "bootylicious" we both began giggling like school girls. “Well, I like to keep up with new words, so every time I hear one I like to keep a list and then call you all. Keeps me spry.”

I love clever slang, and marvel and appreciate how English absorbs and assimilates homegrown slang and neologisms, as well as words and phrases from around the world. I'm glad we don't have our version of the Acadamie Francaise, and that we welcome all of these verbal immigrants. In fact, screw the Acadamie Francaise, which is as flimsy and ineffective as the Maginot Line. It’s folly to try to block off a language, which should be organic, dynamic and constantly evolving. New words introduce new concepts, and invigorate a society. I don’t want to get into wooly linguistic theory, because I would soon be talking out of my hat, but it’s theorized that limitations of language can actually affect a person’s reality and thought processes. Having a word for something can actually bring the concept into reality, which is why the totalitarian state of 1984 was pushing Newspeak so hard. If there were no words for democracy or freedom or rebellion, then people wouldn’t be able to imagine the concepts or act upon them. If the totalitarian state achieved authority over language, it would obtain ultimate control over everything, including one’s thoughts.

As philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's said, "The limits of my language mean the limits to my world."

I have been reading a wonderful book called They Have a Word for It, which contains all of these wonderful words and phrases from languages around the world. They are often reflective of the culture from where they originate, sometimes hilariously so, and would be incredibly enriching if they became part of the English lexicon. I welcome these verbal immigrants!

Tingo - (Pascurnse, Easter Island) – outrageous, insensitive borrowing of objects,

Hakamaroo,= (Pascurnse, Easter Island) Tingo's sister word, and it means to hold onto borrowed objects until the lender has to ask them for it back. Passive aggression at its finest! Homer Simpson is always pulling this with Ned and his yard and power tools. In fact, Flanders walks next door one day and discovers Homer trying to sell a bunch of his borrowed tools in a garage sale.

Anga anga – (Pascurnse, Easter Island) A thought, perhaps groundless, that one is being gossiped about.

Sounds like people got on each other's nerves and in their business on that isolated island community.

Fisselig – (German) Flustered to the point of incompetence, as in when someone is standing over one's shoulder.

Holopsis kuntul baris (Indonesian) A phrase uttered in order to gain extra strength when carrying heavy objects

Fusto - (Italian) – A man who likes to flex his muscles and dress provocatively, like a speedo with lots of gold jewelry at the beach.

Drachenfutter - (German) Literally, dragon's food, it's a gift peace offering guilty husbands bring their wives, say, after a night out drinking.

Attaccabottoni - (Italian) A bore who corners people and tells sad, pointless tales. Someone who buttonholes you.

Kyoikumama - (Japanese) Mother who pushes and drives her children into academic achievement. As pejorative a term as stage mother.

Epater les bourgeois -(French) To shock people deliberately who have conventional values

Mokita – (Kiriwina, New Guinea) Obvious truth everyone knows but doesn’t speak of. (Elephant in the room)

Aware (Japanese) Feelings engendered by ephemeral beauty (The example the book uses is the poignant feelings that arise as one sees a cherry blossom float to the ground)

Radfahrer - (German) One who flatters superiors and browbeats subordinates.

Faux frais -(French) Items you are likely to forget to include when making a budget.

Razbliuto (Russian) - The bittersweet feeling a person has for someone he or she once loved but now does not.

There's a new book out, The Meaning of Tingo and other Extraordinary Words from Around the World, that covers similar territory.

I often enjoy your thorough and rich posts, which are a bit startling after reading so many snippets and half thoughts on other blogs.

I understand the medium encourages quick, blurted fragments, but others' posts are so often weak that I find myself skimming items less than three paragraphs in length.

You're probably already hip to this, but I highly recommend checking out WordSpy. Unlike many similar sites, they offer not only example citations but also the earliest known citation.
Great words!
Where are you foxy mama?? Call me a crack addict, I can't get enuf of your post.
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