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Category Archives: Linguistics

Why Do Violent Criminals Get Powderpuff Nicknames?

Perhaps there’s a point where someone has caused enough mayhem that hyperbole doesn’t do them justice. So people turn to understatement and deprecation instead by using girly or childish nicknames?

Billy the Kid

billy the kid face

Baby Face Nelson

baby face nelson mugshot

Pretty Boy Floyd

Pretty boy floyd

From wiki:
“According to one account, when the payroll master targeted in a robbery described the three perpetrators to the police, he referred to Floyd as ‘a mere boy — a pretty boy with apple cheeks.’ Like his contemporary Baby Face Nelson, Floyd hated his nickname (emphasis mine).”

La Barbie(The Barbie Doll)

La barbie

young la barbie

When younger he more resembles the Ken doll that gave him his nickname. Nevertheless, I suspect it’s mainly a commentary on his light hair and eyes.

La Barbie and celebrated US gangsters of the 1930s have something in common. They come from times and places characterized by widespread poverty and drug smuggling. Times when the government was seen as bumbling, corrupt, and ineffectual. Faith in the establishment was at a low.

You know the established order has failed when people start cheering for thugs.

Not only do/did people give these thugs these affectionate nicknames, they compose songs in their honor.

Violent gangsters of the 1930s figured prominently in US folklore such as in this famous ballad about the exploits of Pretty Boy Floyd.

Today, there’s a whole genre of ‘narcocorridos’; Mexican folk songs celebrating prominent cartelistas as heroes.

Naturally there’s one out there composed in honor of La Barbie, a nice guy who ordered murders and beheadings as a matter of routine.

Metaphors in Language: Why Argument is War

“ARGUMENT IS WAR
Your claims are indefensible.
He attacked every weak point in my argument. His criticisms were right on
target
.
I demolished his argument.
I’ve never won an argument with him.
You disagree? Okay, shoot!
If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.
He shot down all of my arguments.

It is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can
actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We
attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use
strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of
attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war.
Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an
argument—attack, defense, counterattack, etc.—reflects this. It is in this sense that the
ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; it structures the actions we
perform in arguing…

Our conventional ways of talking about arguments pre-suppose a metaphor we are hardly
ever conscious of. The metaphor is not merely in the words we use—it is in our very
concept of an argument. The language of argument is not poetic, fanciful, or rhetorical; it is literal. We talk about arguments that way because we conceive of them that way—and
we act according to the way we conceive of things.”

Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnsen. 2003. p.4

Pre-Politically Correct History: Primitive Languages Lack Abstraction

“The languages of nature peoples are not necessarily primitive in any sense of simplicity; many of them are as complex and wordy as our own, and more highly organized than Chinese. Nearly all primitive tongues, however, limit themselves to the sensual and particular, and are uniformly poor in general or abstract terms.

So the Australian natives had a name for a dog’s tail, and another name for a cow’s tail, but they had no name for tail in general. The Tasmanians had separate names for specific trees, but no general name for tree; the Choctaw Indians had names for the black oak, the white oak the white oak and the red oak, but no name for oak, much less for tree.

Doubtless many generations passeed before the proper noun ended in the common noun. In many tribes there are no separate words for the color as distint from the colored object; no words for such abstractions as tone, sex, species, space, spirit, instinct, reason, quantity, hope, fear, matter, consciousness, etc.

Such abstract terms seem to grow in a reciprocal relation of cause and effet with the development of thought; they become the tools of subtlety and the symbols of civilization.”

Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, 1935

Movie Preview In Hungarian: Sounds More Badass

A Finno-Ugric language in action.

“The Voice”

English Kings Spoke French For 300 Years

Remember those Norman French guys who took over in 1066? They didn’t stop being French for a long time.
Anglo-Saxon was for peasants.
Ever notice how Robin Hood’s enemies have names like ‘Guy de Gisborne?’
LINK

We tend to think of the Hundred years war as a classic conflict between the British and the French.

Really, it was a war between French nobles over France. Many of England’s Norman descended rulers were more invested in Aquitaine and Normandy than in England, which was a relatively minor corner of their empire.

Here is a map of “England” towards the end of the 12th century AD.

A main lesson here is how we project our present values on the past.

-We forget that nationalism is a largely 19th century idea that would have been incomprehensible to 12th century nobles.

-We somehow tend to assume that the Normans gave up France just because they took over England. Again modern ideas of nationalism distort our perspective.

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