Language – Love It or Lose It – Revisited

Serendipitously, over the last 24 hours, I’ve twice been reminded of the Word of the Week feature that used to be on this blog.  First elbow in the ribs is from Amy Eighttrack’s Blog in the comments section of this post.  Amy used that splendid phrase, take umbrage, and I felt a stab of remorse.  I’ve been a lollygagger in not posting old words in need of immediate care and attention, so they can be returned to the community of everyday language.

The elbow on the other side is an article in today’s Guardian, Dictionary compilers create endangered words listCollins Dictionary is retiring words that people only rarely use, at first in the smaller dictionaries, but who knows when they will only be found in obscure etymological texts?  I am particularly distressed about aerodrome and charabanc.  The aero in front of drome or plane has always seemed to me a much more attractive and spacious spelling.  And charabanc evokes an era of social history that’s still vividly alive in my imagination.

Nor am I alone in this way of thinking.  The great British chocolate manufacturer, Rowntree’s, produced the legendary Aero Bar in 1935, a confection of milk chocolate filled with air bubbles.  The name fits perfectly.  Can you imagine them re-branding it as the Air Bar, just because people now travel between airports in airplanes?  Of course not.  I rest my case.

Something must be done about this.  Remember, you can adopt a word at Save the Words.

I pledge to use aerodrome and aeroplane in all written communications, and charabanc wherever possible, regardless of whether the chellspecker has a hissy fit.  And I will revive the Word of the Week feature.  As before, each new word will be added to the Dictionary Page.

So, without more ado:

Umbrage (n): Offence or displeasure.  It’s almost onomatopoeic, suggesting the sound a large, brass wind instrument makes when blown in a fit of disgust.  Reminds me of rumble, rumble, discontent, a phrase a college friend used when irritated, which was quite often.  In later years I have made it my own.  Such is the power of a good example.  The word contains the Latin umbra, meaning shadow.  I can still remember the pleasure at discovering umbra and penumbra (see also penultimate) in a science class about Lunar eclipses.

But enough of this wittering: Jake took deep umbrage at the evangelist’s claim to know the mind of God, because God had already spoken to Jake, and it was nothing like what he’d heard.

Charles Dickens Needs YOU

Or at least the Dickens Journals Online does, which aims to make all his Household Words weekly journals available online.  He edited these hugely popular journals for 20 years and now, according to this Guardian article, the University of Buckingham needs editors to fix the inevitable errors arising from scanning 30,000 pages.  Have computer, will edit, no special Dickens knowledge required, apparently.

Since Household Words was something like a blog in its ability to print news the official press wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, or present the official news with an independent slant, I’m interested in being a part of this project.

Frustratingly, the link to sign up keeps timing out, but here it is anyway: http://www.djo.org.uk.  Perhaps they’re getting heavy traffic right now because of the article.

Palin Praised

Sarah Palin’s ears must be burning with the news that the President of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, has been praising her.  Grimsson was famously the only world leader to have met Palin prior to her run for the White House in 2008.

According to the Reykjavik Grapevine, Grimsson had “kind” words to say of Palin, in his recent interview with the Alaska Dispatch.  Grimsson was in Alaska for the Arctic Imperative Summit from June 19-21, and while they didn’t meet this time, he did talk about meeting her when she was Governor of Alaska.

It’s worth reading the Alaska Dispatch article for what he actually does say:

“At the time (we met), she was a new governor and not talked about on the national level,” Grímsson  says. “We talked constructively about the geothermal potential of Alaska and about many of the same issues that I discussed with Gov. Hickel … I sensed in her a fundamental political capability, a political nature that you either have or you don’t. It’s like a musical quality. Whether people are for or against (her) that she has taken herself from an elected official in Alaska to become one of the most influential forces in politics in a matter of years demonstrates her ability.”

I have to say that he could be right about Palin’s “political nature” – she redefines the concept of narcissism – but not about the “capability.”  Given that she dumped the governorship half-way through when she caught the scent of presidential politics, and her manifest lack of qualifications for even the post of vice-president (Dan Quayle set the bar), I’d say that Grimsson has seriously overestimated her capabilities.

On the the other hand, she is the darling of the Teabaggers, or Tea Party as they prefer to be called, after realizing the unfortunate connotations of their earlier self-chosen name. These raving loonies are undeniably an “influential force” in American politics.  Alas, even that position may be taken away from her with the rise of the even more scary Michele Bachmann, who is expected to declare her candidacy on Monday.

What was Grimsson thinking?

I suspect it was more a diplomatic form of flattery to an Alaskan newspaper, given his left-wing stance.  The Alaska Dispatch seems to have caught something of this flavour, when it writes:

Political ability aside, what does he think of Palin’s policy beliefs? “Let’s not talk about that,” he says with a grin, before he not-so-subtly shuffles the conversation in the direction of green energy, climate change and his preferred talking points.

Grimsson is clearly a consummate politician.

Well, how was it for you?

The Rapture, I mean.  Probably not quite so earth-shattering as promised by Harold Camping on Family Radio, the Christian ministry predicting the earthquakes, followed by by the Rapture, when the Saved float up to Heaven and us godless heathens are left to wallow in misery until the world is finally destroyed on October 21 this year.

Harold Camping

You’ll not be surprised to hear that the Family Radio website appears to have gone tits up as I’m typing this, just 5 minutes before the Rapture wave is due to impact Scotland.  All that publicity for them! Pity there wasn’t better news to report.  I’m really looking forward to Camping’s excuse for why it didn’t happen.

I got most of my news from the Guardian, obviously, who really went to town on the subject.  They reported on it here, here, here and here in the last few days, with more to come when Camping tries to explain himself.  My favourite article was this one, which came out yesterday, inviting the commentariat to say what they would do on their last day.

You can imagine the comments.  My favourite involved taking potshots at the rising Rapturees.  Another fine suggestion took its inspiration from Lawn Chair Larry of Darwin Awards fame.  Instead of using helium balloons to generate lift, this poster proposed lashing the chair to Rapturees.  I urge you to read this thread – the comments are brilliantly cruel and frequently scatological.

While the Guardian was having fun, it took an article by the much-despised Daily Mail to bring home the human consequences of this sort of lunacy.  They talked to the Habbad family, where the parents are true believers who don’t think their children will be among the Saved.  This quote, from 16 year old Grace Haddad, is one of the saddest comments I’ve ever read:

My mom has told me directly that I’m not going to get into heaven.  At first it was really upsetting, but it’s what she honestly believes.

Happy Families, anyone?

April Fool’s Day

Yes, I know it was yesterday, but I already had something posted for yesterday.  The Guardian ran with a clever spoof of a live blog, in which there is a palace coup.  That is to say, Buck House sends over the bearskins to remove the Guardian news team because their countdown coverage of the royal wedding is in contravention of the Felony Act, 1848.  And then continues the live blog, posted by one Olaf Priol,  under new, let’s say more enthusiastic, management.

Very good it is, too, with all the usual live blog accoutrements – tweets, videos, audio files, updates, comment – beautifully satirized.

Sad to say, I completely missed this item, and came across something so bizarre that I felt it had to be the genuine article.  A comment is free piece by Shimon Peres, Israeli President, entitled We in Israel welcome the Arab spring.

Well, can you blame me?  Did he did not know it would appear on April Fool’s Day?

A contentious commentariat, as you can imagine, and surprisingly most of them did not seem to make the connection.  So I posted my suspicions and, lo and behold! got moderated.  I was a tad aggrieved about that, as I later discovered other posters who had made the same suggestion and remained visible.

Anyway.  Back to Will and Kate, who I have been studiously ignoring, refusing even to learn exactly when the junket takes place.  Indeed, I had even managed to block out their names until yesterday, thinking of them only as a big, expensive noise crunching bits off the edge of my consciousness.

Have you ever seen The Langoliers, one of Stephen King’s worst turkeys?  Basically, a commercial airliner flies out of the normal space/time continuum, and when it lands again finds itself a few hours in the past, on a dead Earth with all the people gone.  The physical framework – buildings, trees and so on – is still there, waiting to be eaten by these things that sound like Pacmen with the volume cranked up to 11.

That noise.

Where was I?  Oh yes. Will and Kate.  The awful thing is that you can’t be angry at them – what’s not to like about two people falling in love and getting married – but the Event itself is such a perfect distraction for a country being fed into the Coalition meat grinder.  Bread and circuses made to order as the personal and political meet in a marriage of convenience, and we all melt together into a warm forgiving glow.

It’s a good thing I’m not a cynic.

Back to the Fuhrer?

A new exhibition has opened in Berlin, Hitler and the Germans – Nation and Crime. Here’s a video from the Guardian and an article from the Independent, with comments if you’d like to jump into the discussion. I don’t want to say anything specifically about the exhibition except that it’s generally a good thing for countries to look their history in the face.

I am interested in the conditions that lead to the existence of regimes like Nazi Germany. One huge factor is economic depression, coupled with the scapegoating of poor and ethnic minorities. These conditions are prevalent in Europe and the USA. The Teabaggers in America are a disturbing example of what happens when angry, irrational rhetoric drives the political process.

But I want to focus closer to home, on the behaviour of British tabloid newspapers. An interesting thing happened today. The Daily Mail also covered the Berlin exhibition in this article. I posted a comment. Here it is, as written:

We should look and learn from Nazi history. The scapegoats may change, but there’s already a whiff of the 1930s in the rising wave of Islamophobia. Look at the hate-filled, hysterical response to the Park51 community centre in New York. In the UK the propaganda machine is in full swing in the tabloid newspapers.

The DM, along with the other tabloids, delights in scapegoating the poor and immigrants, calling them benefits scroungers. And DM stories aggressively associate the word ‘Muslim’ with negative stereotypes. An example is the campaign against ‘halal’ meat. It scarcely ever mentions that the method of killing the animal – one cut across the throat without stunning it first – is identical to the kosher method. But it’s always described as ‘halal’.

Early stages yet, just as the Nazis started small, whipping up hate where they could and feeding on people’s fears in a depressed economy. Look and learn from history.

Frankly, I didn’t expect them to publish it. But they did, with all references to the Daily Mail taken out. Here it is, 14/10/10 at 12:21:

We should look and learn from Nazi history. The scapegoats may change, but there’s already a whiff of the 1930s in the rising wave of Islamophobia. Look at the hate-filled, hysterical response to the Park51 community centre in New York.

Early stages yet, just as the Nazis started small, whipping up hate where they could and feeding on people’s fears in a depressed economy. Look and learn from history.

Twenty red arrows so far. If the Daily Mail had merely refused to publish, I would not have bothered mentioning them in this blog. But censorship, taking out the main point of the post, is completely unacceptable.

To be perfectly clear, I am suggesting that tabloid newspapers like the Daily Mail, Daily Express and the Sun churn out propaganda that demonizes the poor, immigrants and Muslims. I am not suggesting that these newspapers are inspired by Nazi ideas, merely that by lazy, uninformed stereotyping and biased, sloppy journalism that panders to the perceived prejudices of their readers, they spread the shit in which those ideas flourish.

For example, consider this front page from a 1938 edition of Der Sturmer. I don’t speak or read German, but the message is pretty obvious. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Compare that to some of these Daily Mail stories about the ‘benefits scroungers’, immigrants, Muslims. Plenty of pictures in the articles demonstrating how feckless these people are.

I think we live in dangerous times, when the economic situation is bringing out all the dog eat dog nastiness of people threatened by the loss of jobs, housing and security. The tabloids, meanwhile, are milking this for all it’s worth by pointing the finger of blame at anybody lower in the pecking order than their readers.

A disgusting spectacle that makes me fear for the survival of a civil, democratic society. That said, I would like to thank the Daily Mail for so royally pissing me off by censoring my comment in the MailOnline. Otherwise I might not been inspired to write this post.