AN OPEN MIND AT WORK.

This Log post is very heartening to me. Sometimes I feel that ignorance about language is invincible, that it doesn’t matter how often and how clearly the truth is pointed out, people prefer their unthinking prejudices. But after Tom Chivers of the Telegraph complained about what he considered an incorrect use of “fulsome,” he was taken to task and responded thus:

The magnificent Language Log has taken a look at my post yesterday about Nadine Dorries and the word “fulsome”, and pointed out – as quite a few of you did in the comments – that I was, not to put too fine a point on it, wrong:

fulsome originally meant “copious, abundant”. This developed gradually through “plump, fat” and “overfed, surfeited”, through “cloying, excessive” and “disgusting, repulsive” to “gross or excessive flattery, over-demonstrative affection”. But the original meanings never really went away.

That is, in the end, me told. They say some other nice things – mainly, that I deserve credit for admitting “the only final arbiter of what a word means is what people understand it to mean”, which they describe as “un-Heffersaurian”, for some reason. And it’s all wonderfully urbane and articulate and kind. But I was, in describing Ms Dorries as using the word “incorrectly”, entirely mistaken myself. As I said yesterday, Muphry’s Law (or Skitt’s Law) lies in wait for the unwary.
I’ve responded underneath the Language Log piece, which I hope will be visible there soon – but I thought I’d post the slightly edited gist of my reply here, which was:

As you say, “fulsome” originally meant what Ms Dorries thinks it means, and that the meaning has never been out of use, so the whole premise of my post was, pretty much, nonsense. I suppose that, once you get beyond the fact that words mean what people think they mean, it’s just personal taste. I liked the more subtle and specific meaning of “fulsome” as “offensively over-the-top”, on the basis that there are lots of words meaning “full”, “abundant” and “effusive” already. But, sadly for me, nowadays (and not only nowadays, as you point out) it means both: so Ms Dorries’s use was perfectly accurate. I don’t like it, but that’s my problem.

It’s hard to imagine a handsomer and more thorough retraction, and it gives me some slight hope for humanity at large.

Comments

  1. Vance Maverick says:

    It is impressively gracious. He still does cling, though, to a an unanalyzed fragment of his former prejudice, finding it “sad” that the meaning he likes is not the only one.
    Thanks to Google, I see that “Heffersaurian” refers to the journalist Simon Heffer, whose book on usage and grammar was given a classic Pullumulant scourging.

  2. Is it so bad, though, to cling to fragments or former prejudice? Language is in a sense a democracy, and we’re all entitled to our opinions on it. Should have to abandon our feelings on what particular words mean just because there’s evidence that some people have different feelings? Chivers, after all, is one of people who get to be the final arbiter or what the word means.

  3. Vance Maverick says:

    Far better to express sadness than to try to enforce one’s preference, no doubt. But how about turning the frown, as it were, upside down, by taking pleasure in using the word in the sense one enjoys?

  4. I find there’s nothing more irritating than some smartass telling me I’m using MY language wrongly, I don’t care whether it was Chivers before he saw the light or it’s Libermann and the Loggers. Consequently, I and millions of others will continue to think fulsome means “overdone” and that anyone who uses it to mean something positive is, for some perverse reason of their own, provoking confusion.
    Of course, I’m happy to have my mind changed.

  5. slight hope for humanity at large
    There is something uniquely annoying about people who cling to prescriptivist beliefs about language, and something very satisfying about pulling down their pretensions. But in the larger scheme of things, isn’t there an element of straining at gnats?

  6. Ooops, wrong comparison.
    Perhaps I should have said ‘storm in a teacup’.

  7. Interesting. I just found out that ‘strain at gnats’ is an error. It should be ‘strain out gnats’. Not a matter of prescriptiveness; the current idiom is a garbled version that has come down to us and doesn’t reflect the Biblical original.

  8. I don’t think we have to go so far as to forbid people to be sad about usages they don’t like :-)

  9. I don’t think we have to go so far as to forbid people to be sad about usages they don’t like :-)
    No, but we can certainly call their linguistic melancholy silly. Even putatively extinct, glorious specimens, like “gay” and “disinterested” (both lamented in the birch-bark thread), aren’t really lost to us: they carry on, full chiaroscuro, in not only the OED and other dictionaries but also the whole world of letters; they’re just spoken less often. And that’s no sadder than the ending of a sunset. Of course, people are free to weep every evening, but I for one don’t plan to hand out hankies to the bereaved when they could just as easily visit museums.

  10. What people object to is that if a certain meaning of a word prevails, other meanings, while still preserved in a language’s history, will no longer be employable in everyday usage. When two of a word’s meanings are in conflict, it might be silly to claim one is intrinsically superior, but it is not silly to defend the meaning you find more remarkable so as to preserve it for you children to use.

  11. It’s hard to imagine a handsomer and more thorough retraction, and it gives me some slight hope for humanity at large.
    That’s a rather narrowly Catholic kind of hope. It’s OK to step out of line, so long as one is willing to repent of it later ? I still hold with “don’t do it in the first place”, but then I had a Protestant upbringing.
    Belief in the efficacity of that principle doesn’t make me infallible, of course. But I find it quite easy to back down thoroughly after making an egregious mistake. And just as easy to apologize handsomely after making a fool of myself.
    I don’t know why more people don’t go in for that. It’s merely a matter of being irascible and careless. But I suspect that’s not the kind of hope for humanity that you are entertaining.

  12. Of course it’s better not to make mistakes in the first place, but clinging to one’s mistakes once exposed is even worse. Catholic or Protestant, it works either way. “Whenever any Individual Rejects Error & Embraces Truth a Last Judgment passes upon that Individual” is a thoroughly Protestant formulation of the same thing, from Blake’s notes on his lost painting “A Vision of the Last Judgment”. Failure to reject error leaves one frozen in a condition of original sin.

  13. That’s my point: failure to reject error is a failing. But the Protestant view is that error is answerable before the court of conscience, not the tribunals of a worldly Church. “Exposure” is a Catholic worry – that’s why the Catholic Church covers up the sexual predations of priests.

  14. What people object to is that if a certain meaning of a word prevails, other meanings, while still preserved in a language’s history, will no longer be employable in everyday usage. When two of a word’s meanings are in conflict, it might be silly to claim one is intrinsically superior, but it is not silly to defend the meaning you find more remarkable so as to preserve it for you children to use.
    It depends what you mean by “defend.” If that defense bears any resemblance to the phenomenon of prescriptivism as documented on this blog and Language Log and in the online comments to any article about language in a mainstream newspaper, then it’s not only silly but abhorrent; belittling people, and trying to persuade them that they don’t know how to speak their own language, in service of one’s own idealistic linguistic vision, is deplorable. If, on the other hand, you’re talking about lightheartedly articulating your reasons for preferring one usage to another, with full awareness that your preferences are aesthetic rather than ethical — and that obviously your children will be deprived of nothing serious if after they leave your home (where you can converse with them with whichever shifting words you happen to be fond of however you like), they may have to use a synonym you or they find less euphonious, or even several words, to express a concept in conversation (as opposed to their writing, where if they’re skillful enough to provide proper context they should be able to use all the words at issue in exactly the same way they did at home, since words don’t change that quickly and the world of letters is conservative) — then yeah, sure, that’s not silly; that’s just being a reasonable person, with a few opinions. I happen to hope “disinterested” hangs on in the “unbiased” sense as long as possible, because “unbiased” really isn’t a satisfactory synonym.

  15. I agree with Bathrobe’s gnats.
    full awareness that your preferences are aesthetic rather than ethical
    Sure, take a look at The Blog of Nadine Dorries. She is a Tory MP. Here are two of three paragraphs from Monday’s post:

    I hope that what we all really want is for a referendum, in order for the British people to decide. Whereas our point of view is relevant, it cannot be our decison.
    I want the British tax payer to be removed of the financial obligation to keep funding the ills of the EU, However, it doesn’t matter what I or any other MP wants. This is a decision for the people.

    It’s not ethical, it’s not just aesthetic, I also have a hard time understanding her.

  16. …Read her Wikipedia entry, she sounds like Cruella de Ville.

  17. @AJP Crown:

    I find there’s nothing more irritating than some smartass telling me I’m using MY language wrongly, I don’t care whether it was Chivers before he saw the light or it’s Libermann and the Loggers. Consequently, I and millions of others will continue to think fulsome means “overdone” and that anyone who uses it to mean something positive is, for some perverse reason of their own, provoking confusion.

    So, if I read you right, you are telling everyone who uses ‘fulsome’ with that meaning that they are using their language wrongly?

  18. If I may be allowed to horn in here: I would say no, they are using my language improperly. “They” do as they please, of course, and always have done. But anything they can do I can do better, as Ethel Merman used to remark.

  19. What G. said. Besides, what you’re trying to argue about is so boring that you’ll have to pay me to take part. $250/hour, payable in advance.

  20. *sends AJP a check for 6 österreichisch-ungarische Gulden, 30 Kreuzer*

  21. LH,
    Your pal Bill Safire wrote an NYTimes column on “fulsome” back in 2009–because of Barack Obama using it in a speech:
    “I just want to make sure that we’re having an honest debate and presenting to the American people a fulsome accounting of what is going on in this program.”
    My Urban Dictionary of Slang says Fulsome to today’s youthful definitionists is a middle-word between AWful and AWEsome…meaning it’s neither awful nor awesome. How’s that for youthful logic?
    ur fiend,
    tgw

  22. I’m not arguing in Hungarian, if that’s your game.

  23. Sure Jamessal, it has nothing to do with morality and even if it did the arguments most proscriptivists use are far from convincing. I just didn’t find Chivvers’s original position all that awful.
    And though I don’t find a discussion of these things boring, it is less interesting than gnat straining or original pronunciation or a great many other topics language hat has introduced to me. So I apologize if my post earlier has partially contributed to this all off-course veer.

  24. Why not ? Not long after I stepped delicately over the Hat threshold for the first time, you were convinced I was Hungarian, because of something Hat quoted from My Fair Lady. I assumed at the time that you hoped to have found someone with whom to biff the b. of Hungary.

  25. This is a very interesting issue. In some way I feel I can understand almost every point of view expressed here (yes, I know I’m kind of a jell-o thinker…), but I specially agree with Joe R
    What people object to is that if a certain meaning of a word prevails, other meanings, while still preserved in a language’s history, will no longer be employable in everyday usage. When two of a word’s meanings are in conflict, it might be silly to claim one is intrinsically superior, but it is not silly to defend the meaning you find more remarkable so as to preserve it for you children to use.
    In Spanish lately we have a similar “problem” with the word BIZARRO. It’s a Spanish word originally but in its way trough English and French it changed its meaning. I specially like the original meaning, it’s a word from the history period I study, but I can’t agree with my mother when she’s annoyed by people who use it in the meaning it has now… Language as life and people it’s a very complex affair!

  26. Come on, Julia, don’t leave us hanging like that ! What is the original Spanish meaning ? Expliquelonos por favor !

  27. Goddamit, should that be “explíquenoslo” ?

  28. Yes, what’s bizarro? I want to start using it as soon as possible.
    Are you one of those Texas Hungarians, G? Are you putting Winnie The Pooh into hieroglyphs?

  29. marie-lucie says:

    Julia, so what was the original meaning (in Basque I believe) of bizarro and what does it mean now in Spanish?
    the individual use of words:
    A recently retired couple I know here in Nova Scotia have spent the past few months touring the US and now Canada in a large camper. The woman has been sending all her acquaintances a regular email account of the many incidents, good and bad, along the way, especially the many problems they have had with their camper, causing unforeseen delays and expenses. I was taken aback by her use of “Alas!” every time they got over another misfortune, as in: “The repair cost us another 3000 dollars, but we are ok, alas!” I don’t think I have ever heard her say the word, but for her it seems to mean “fortunately” (or perhaps “at last” or “at least”?).

  30. marie-lucie says:

    un autre bizarro
    When my daughter (a French-English bilingual) was around 10 or 11 year old, she started referring to people she did not like as bizarros (in French). After a while I realized that she was making up the word on the model of English weirdos.

  31. marie-lucie: “The repair cost us another 3000 dollars, but we are ok, alas!”
    That’s interesting. There are several positions in the sentence where the word would be fine:
    “The repair cost us another 3000 dollars, alas, but we are ok!”
    “Alas, the repair cost us another 3000 dollars, but we are ok!”.
    Is the final positioning of the interjection a hint as to her native language?

  32. Sorry, I dind’t mean to keep you hanging!
    “Bizarro” in (classical) Spanish meant “brave” and also “splendid”. Now we use it as in English or French bizarre (“odd, unusual, strange”) for example to qualify a strange kind of movie or show or even a person, like M-L daughter.
    Sorry again, but I have to continue this part in Spanish:
    Quizás de todas formas el origen del cambio de significado puede estar en el uso de la palabra en el castellano del siglo XVII. A los soldados españoles se los calificaba muchas veces de “bizarros”. En principio por la valentía, pero también por sus actitudes. Los soldados españoles de la época se caracterizaban por usar ropas muy vistosas (recordemos que no había uniformes todavía) y ser además muy fanfarrones y ruidosos. Quizás por eso “bizarro” empezó a tener también el sentido de lo que está fuera de lo común.
    I don’t know if my guessing is valid or not… But I do know that nowadays here everybody uses the word as if it came from English or maybe French.

  33. Brilliant, Julia. That’s also what the Oxford English Dictionary has:
    bizarre, a. and n.
    (bɪˈzɑː(r), or as Fr. bizar)
    Also 7 bizare, bizarr.
    [mod.Eng. (17th c.), a. F. bizarre ‘odd, fantastic,’ formerly ‘brave, soldier-like’; cf. Sp. and Pg. bizarro ‘handsome, brave,’ It. bizzarro ‘angry, choleric,’ dial. Fr. (Berry) bigearrer to quarrel. Littré suggests that the Spanish word is an adaptation of Basque bizarra beard, in the same manner as hombre de bigote moustached man, is used in Sp. for a ‘man of spirit’; but the history of the sense has not been satisfactorily made out.
       1667 Evelyn Mem. (1857) III. 161 We have hardly any words that do so fully express the French‥naivete, ennui, bizarre, concert‥emotion, defer, effort‥let us therefore (as the Romans did the Greek) make as many of these do homage as are like to prove good citizens.]
    1.1 At variance with recognized ideas of taste, departing from ordinary style or usage; eccentric, extravagant, whimsical, strange, odd, fantastic.
       a 1648 Ld. Herbert Life, Her attire seemed as bizare as her person.    1668 Dryden Maid. Queen Pref., The Ornament of Writing, which is greater, more various and bizarre in Poesie than in any other kind.    1757 Hume Stand. Taste, Ess. (1875) I. 270 Ariosto pleases; but not‥by his bizarre mixture of the serious and comic styles.    1825 Scott Talism. (1863) 42 Such oddity of gestures and manner as befitted their bizarre and fantastic appearance.    1879 Farrar St. Paul I. 352 The bizarre superstitions by which he was surrounded.
    b.1.b esp. At variance with the standard of ideal beauty or regular form; grotesque, irregular.
       1824 Dibdin Libr. Comp. 577 The bizarre wooden cuts of Caxton.    1851 Ruskin Stones Ven. I. xi. §14 If the arch be of any bizarre form, especially ogee.    1861 N. Woods Pr. Wales in Canada 359 The capitol is a bizarre Græco-American building which runs much to windows.
    c.1.c absol. or quasi-n.
       1850 J. Leitch tr. Müller’s Anc. Art §99 An intentional striving at the bizarre.    1851 R. Wornum Exhib. a Lesson in Taste 5/2 In the Renaissance [architecture], we have‥a prevalence of the bizarre and a love of profusion of parts.
    2.2 Hort. Applied to variegated species of garden flowers, as tulips and carnations. Often as n.
       1753 Chambers Cycl. Supp., Bizarre, a term used among the florists for a particular kind of carnation, which has its flowers striped or variegated with three or four colours.    1843 Penny Cycl. XXV. 343/2 Bizarre tulips have a yellow ground marked with purple or scarlet of different shades.    1883 Athenæum 30 June 825/3 The ‘streaked gillyflower’ is the clove so crossed as to become a ‘bizarre.’

  34. The two dictionaries I looked at (RAE and Larousse) say that Spanish got bizarro from the Italian, where it meant, as the OED says above, “angry, choleric.”

  35. And, as has happend before, my old Pequeño Larousse (1964) turns out to be much more informative than the RAE. It adds this:
    OBSERV. Es galicismo usar “bizarro” en el sentido de “extravagante, fantástico, caprichoso.”

  36. I just didn’t find Chivvers’s original position all that awful.
    Me neither. Even the bit about his being sad wasn’t so solemn as to evince a lack of perspective.
    I apologize if my post earlier has partially contributed to this all off-course veer.
    I don’t think we distracted anybody much with our sidebar, and I enjoyed it. So thank you. It sounds like we pretty much agree about the whole prescriptivism/descriptivism thing anyway.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    6 österreichisch-ungarische Gulden, 30 Kreuzer

    Heller. :-)

    was taken aback by her use of “Alas!” every time they got over another misfortune, as in: “The repair cost us another 3000 dollars, but we are ok, alas!”

    Is it possible that you misheard “at last”, with flapped /t/ in at and entirely dropped /t/ in last?

  38. Thank you for that quote, AJP! Now I can directly refer to this. It’s true, JR, the dear Larousse is always more alive than the DRAE.
    But the “problem” continues: should I get angry with the modern young fellows that use “bizarro” all the time thinking they’re using an English word?

  39. Well, that’s why I found that Larousse comment interesting: the Frenchified use goes back at least to 1964.

  40. J.: Should I get angry?
    No, it’s a waste of energy. Besides, I’m sure they’ll be interested to hear the real etymology.

  41. Interesting, I didn’t know the Spanish origin of bizarre; I always assumed it was French (though obviously from a non-French source). Certainly it’s much more commonly used in French than in English, and with a meaning more like “odd” in English. Bizarre in English usually suggests something really freakish or outlandish, no?
    On the general question of “regretting” the loss of older meanings, I would add only one, mildly “prescriptivist” note: obviously one ought not to be snobbish towards those who use words in ignorance of their history, even if it’s recent history; still that doesn’t mean that ignorance has to be considered a good thing in itself.

  42. If a word means just what I want it to mean, how are we to communicate with each other?

  43. If a word means just what I want it to mean, how are we to communicate with each other?
    My dear sir, how can we truly know we ARE communicating?
    Personally I shall continue to use “that” when I wish to be restrictive and “which” when I don’t: others can do what they like. But there are some words, like “fulsome” that are now far too skunked to be worth picking up, and which must be left in the road where they’ve been run over.

  44. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: We are okay, alas!/Alas, we’re okay!
    The woman who writes this kind of thing is a monolingual speaker of rural Nova Scotia English. The position of alas! varies, but it is definitely linked to a positive statement coming after one with negative connotations. I don’t know whether this is a personal idiosyncrasy or a mini-dialect feature.

  45. If a word means just what I want it to mean, how are we to communicate with each other?

    Humpty D. and Alice did okay.

  46. Alan Shaw: Bizarre in English usually suggests something really freakish or outlandish, no?
    No, I think it often means the OED’s “departing from ordinary style or usage”, especially lately. For example someone might comment that there’s no afternoon connecting train between Daventry and Bridgport to get you to Euston by teatime by saying “Well, that’s bizarre!”.

  47. …a bit like the French, Comme c’est bizarre, comme c’est curieux, et quelle coincidence.

  48. (Or maybe it’s Romanian-French, but I think not.)

  49. Yeah, in the US, “bizarre” is probably just as common as in French. It is a stronger form of “strange,” “weird,” or “out of the ordinary.” But very often all these are synonymous. “That’s strange” “That’s bizarre” — same thing.

  50. Much more contentious than ‘fulsome’, of course, is ‘disinterested’.

  51. Now in Spanish “bizarro” is kind of a cool way to express that something is weird but interesting in its freakishness. For example Ed Wood’s films ARE “bizarros”. This impersonation of Gene Simons is “bizarra”.

  52. Just as slippery as the word “interested” used in 18-19 C insular English novels. On average it seems to mean “has stakes in, without wanting to say so outright”. This coyness is especially noticeable when the adumbrated stakes are financial.
    I have concluded that “interest” in this sense was covertly equivalent to “self-interest”, with the sometimes deprecating, sometimes approving connotations of the latter. It belonged to the same cloud of sociolinguistic unease as “tradesman”.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    DM: Is it possible that you misheard “at last”, with flapped /t/ in at and entirely dropped /t/ in last?
    As I mentioned, I have never heard her say “alas”, I have only read it in her email travelogue, which is otherwise unremarkable. If she had been dropping t’s in her speech, I would have heard this in other words too, such as “at lunch” and “past”.

  54. m-l, you’re going to have to ask her what she means by it. We all want to know now. Or we could send her an LH email, “It has come to our attention that…etc.”

  55. hahaha! Add my signature in that e-mail, Crown. We deserve to know.

  56. But a conscientious linguist would not want to destroy the evidence, right ? If the woman were asked straight-out about her use of the word “alas”, she might instantly become self-conscious, change her linguistic behavior and deny having used the word in that way. What would the linguist then do: confront the woman with her emails and demand explanation ?
    There are several ways to deal with curiosity about the womans’s speech without interfering with it. One way is to secretly observe her speech patterns and those of her cohorts over a long period of time. Another way is to become self-conscious oneself, change one’s prying behavior and ask Hat to destroy the blog comments on this subject.

  57. “Just as slippery as the word “interested” used in 18-19 C insular English novels. On average it seems to mean “has stakes in, without wanting to say so outright””. The expression “interested parties” is pretty standard and not at all coy, but perhaps it wasn’t C18-19. Mark you, “interested parties” has perhaps been replaced by “”stakeholder”, but with (I think) a distinction. You could declare yourself an “interested party” – indeed, you were often invited to declare yourself – but people in authority seem to reserve to themselves the right to decide who is a “stakeholder”. Blairite bastards!

  58. David Marjanović says:

    coincidence

    Coïncidence. Otherwise it would sound bizarroïde.

    As I mentioned, I have never heard her say “alas”, I have only read it in her email travelogue

    *facepalm* Oops.

  59. I had a similar experience a few years ago: someone used the word “alas”, in writing, in what appeared to be the opposite of its usual meaning (happy interjection as opposed to sad). This was a middle-aged teacher writing a few pages to parents on what her class of very young children had been doing.
    I assumed that she had learned the word wrong, probably by reading it early in life and guessing its meaning wrong from a context where there was some ambiguity. But I can’t offer any explanation why, if that was the case, she would not have straightened it out for herself later.
    I may have been one of many people throughout her adult life who were too embarrassed to say “um, I don’t think that word means what you think it means”

  60. Comme c’est bizarre
    Yes, it IS used a lot in the US now, too, though to my ear still with a slightly stronger implication of strangeness than in French.

  61. Comme c’est bizarre
    Haha. A good one.

  62. empty: too embarrassed to say “um, I don’t think that word means what you think it means”
    I think that’s only marginally more polite than my all too frequent: “that word doesn’t mean what you think it means”, when my German colleagues ride roughshod over German and English vocab. I think I lost the most recent battle over “impediment”, which they picked up from one of those methodology buzz-pits – “Scrum” – and now misuse in every second sentence.
    I think, though, that I might improve my popularity ratings just by prepending “I think” to my didacticisms. I think about it.

  63. It just occurred to me that I can also add “I think” as an afterthought, I think.

  64. (Methinks you’re in the right path to niceness, Grumbly.)

  65. There is something uniquely annoying about people who cling to prescriptivist beliefs about language, and something very satisfying about pulling down their pretensions. But in the larger scheme of things, isn’t there an element of straining at gnats?
    Prescriptivism is one of the most widespread linguistic fallacies (and, keeping things in perspective, a slightly harmful one); I don’t see how articulating its falsity every once in a while — on a language blog — is in any way straining at gnats. LH isn’t the wide world.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    Ø, thank you for mentioning this other “alas” fan, a schoolteacher no less, so no wonder others did not want to set her right.
    Grumbly: “I think” is a good comment in some situations, so is “The way I learned it …” when dealing with what seem to be mistakes, especially in a language other than your own. Perhaps I can use that with the travelling lady when she comes back.

  67. Grumbly, what do they think “impediment” means?

  68. ‘Baggage’? That’s how Caesar used it; it’s true he wasn’t German, but if I had to read him at a tender age, the Germans might have as well.

  69. In the set phrase “I do not think that word means what you think it means”, the “I do not think” part is an intensifier, not a hedge. The original context is: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”, and the word in question is “Inconceivable!”

  70. To add just the mildest of prescriptivist notes, I am of course Princess Buttercup.
    I’m also too tired tonight for Quine in the other thread, although I’m looking forward to mulling your comment tomorrow, John, and I wanted to thank you for taking the time.

  71. Hat: ‘Baggage’? That’s how Caesar used it
    Thanks for the feed ! The German Bagage is no longer in current use to mean impedimenta (Gepäck, Reisegepäck). Nowadays Bagage (ba-GAHzh) is a term for a smallish group of people (a family down the block, say) whom you think are not behaving as they should, to whom you feel superior. It’s a weak form of “low-life” or “trash”.
    empty: what do they think “impediment” means?
    First off, the very frequency with which they use it while speaking German – “in every second sentence” is only a slight exaggeration – constitutes misuse. It’s as if someone, in an everyday discussion of hats, always said “headwear” instead of “hat” – like a furriner who prefers the more elegant-sounding term. “Impediment”, if it were a technical term in law, might be used frequently in a discussion of legal matters in English, but everday IT conversations in German are not such discussions.
    The “Agile methodology” with its concept of Scrum actually encourages this undisciminating use of “impediment” in English:

    In Scrum, an impediment is anything that keeps a team from being productive. An impediment can literally be anything, from a team member who is slacking to a freezing team room. But if it’s blocking the team from performing to the best of its abilities, it’s an impediment.

    There’s something fishy here that is hard to pin down: have management consultants just discovered that workers sometimes encounter things that keep them from “performing to the best of their abilities” ? I have suggested to my colleagues that they use the appropriate German term Behinderung here instead of the fancy-pants foreign expression “impediment” – but they balk.
    Why do they balk ? I think it is partly because “impediment” sounds cooler in a German sentence, and partly because the word Behinderung (or the verb behindern – German has verbs, not just nouns) in their native language would oblige these people to recognize that it is prinzessinhaft to pretend that every little pea under your mattress causes sleepless nights.
    Even those team members who have to devote part of their time every day to work on some other project Y (other than the one X they and I are involved in) call the time spent on project Y an “impediment” to project X. Vice versa, in discussions in project Y, the time spent on project X is an “impediment” to project Y. So planning itself produces “impediments”.
    As always, the words and the “reality” are stuck together like the Tar Baby. What I am calling misuse is only partly lexical abuse. My other objections are directed at this attempt (“Agile methodology”) to encourage project workers to see themselves as child laborers who are allowed to whine, but not to think about the larger context and their role in it, and to take appropriate action. It reminds me of the Catholic institution of confession, and what Foucault had to say about that.
    One colleague actually speaks all the time in a tone of judicious plaintiveness, like an old woman going on about the way the doctor treats her rheumatism.

  72. Nowadays Bagage (ba-GAHzh) is a term for a smallish group of people (a family down the block, say) whom you think are not behaving as they should, to whom you feel superior. It’s a weak form of “low-life” or “trash”.
    The first time I heard of this was in a joke. Herr Hitler and colleagues were taking the train to Paris. Upon their arrival they heard people on the platform calling Bagages! Bagages!. Hitler went into a panic, crying: “They’re onto us”.
    (I didn’t say it was a good joke…)

  73. I think it’s both funny and in retrospect sad, considering the circles in which it must have originated. It may date from the early 1930s, when the upper middle-classes could still view Hitler and his rants as a bad joke.

  74. Like Sarah Palin.

  75. Of course it was not Hilter, Goebbels etc. who were responsible for the Third Reich, but the great portion of the population that voted for them. Many people were extremely anxious about their livelihoods and the economy, partially as a result of the American stock market crash of ’29 and the subsequent worldwide Depression.
    The behavior of American and international “investment” banks has again prepared the ground for world economic, and therefore political crisis. Those Americans who hope for help from the Tea Party and their Sarah Palins may find themselves soon in a situation similar to that of the Germans in the ’30s – it won’t be a joke any more, and it will be on home territory like the Trade Towers, not something that happens in furrin countries.
    Few people expected anything like the Third Reich to be coming up, there are even conflicting retrospective claims about how it came to pass – but it happened. I don’t expect a Third Reich in America, but rather a vindictive evangelical theocracy of the ayatollah kind.
    As an American, I have come to see things this way from having lived in Germany for over 40 years. In light of the circumstances of what happened here 80 years ago, I fear for my country. And I don’t know what to do about it, any more than many Germans did back then.

  76. Not many people will have heard about “Hilter”, as I wrote above. He was the chief Nazi hairdresser.

  77. G., the answer to your problem is synonyms. I never encountered ‘impediment’ but I remember when I lived in Germany this sort of confusion used to drive me crazy. When they call the time spent on project Y an “impediment” to project X, you should flip through the thesaurus attached to your belt and go:
    Impediment: hindrance, obstruction, obstacle, barrier, bar, block, handicap, check, curb, restriction, limitation; setback, difficulty, snag, hitch, hurdle, stumbling block; informal fly in the ointment, hiccup, spanner or (monkey) wrench in the works, glitch; (archaic) cumber…Doch das ist ein informal fly in the ointment – ein informelles haar in der Suppe – aber kein Sand im Getriebe, barrier, bar oder limitation.”

  78. I don’t expect a Third Reich in America, but rather a vindictive evangelical theocracy of the ayatollah kind.
    Well, America does already imprison a greater percentage of its minorities than any country on earth — including a greater percentage of its black population than South Africa at the height of apartheid. We are living in The New Jim Crow, and I don’t consider that hyperbole.

  79. Jim, the statistics of incarceration are a tricky subject. Suppose Americans changed things so that only such percentages of its minorities were held in prison that were statistically typical on a global scale. Would that be more acceptable ?
    Suppose that the most populous countries decided to crack down on their minorities. There would be many more persons from minorities in prison, but each country would still hold the same percentage of them as the others do. That should be equally acceptable, according to the statistical argument that you are implicitly deploying.
    On the other subject: I know that my expectations of an “evangelical theocracy” in America are rather melodramatic. What I worry about more are the global repercussions of the financial crisis sparked off by American banks, and the effects that American debt is having on international economies. The severest political and economic consequences will be elsewhere, not in America.

  80. David Marjanović says:

    Whut? Impediment occurs in German now???
    BTW, prinzessinnenhaft. I guess you live in an area where syllabic nasal consonants are allowed to come directly after other nasal consonants like in Brem’n?

    Jim, the statistics of incarceration are a tricky subject. Suppose Americans changed things so that only such percentages of its minorities were held in prison that were statistically typical on a global scale. Would that be more acceptable ?

    Well, first of all, the US keeps a much larger proportion of its total population in prison. Most, I hear, are in there because the US has a War on Drugs instead of the principle “therapy instead of punishment” that has greatly reduced drug problems and associated criminality throughout the EU.

  81. David: BTW, prinzessinnenhaft
    Hmm… Das ginge mir nicht so leicht über die Lippen, ich wollte es aber auch nicht durch die (Hirn)lappen gehen lassen. Es klingt phonetisch und orthologisch überzogen, selbst in einiger Entfernung von Bremen. Du würdest doch eher “königinhaft” als “königinnenhaft” sagen, oder ? Wie stellt sich denn Mannheim zu Verbindungen mit -haft ? Keine Ahnung !
    Ich empfinde die Substantive, die in -haft-Verbindungen tatsächlich auftreten, semantisch eher als Genitiv- denn als Pluralformen – wenn eine Mehrzahl nicht schon ins Auge sticht. Ein etwaiges “n” wäre aus euphonischen Gründen eingefügt worden. “Heldenhaft” = “von der Art eines Helden”, nicht “von der Helden Art”. Man kann sich in vielen Fällen Einzahl oder Mehrzahl denken, wie’s beliebt: “gönnerhaft”, “massenhaft”, “lehrerhaft”.
    Man sagt “mannhaft”, nicht “männerhaft”. Man kann “bubihaft” oder “bubenhaft” sagen (mit leicht unterschiedlicher Konnotation, natürlich). Hier ein Lemma aus Duden, das weder in deinen Kram noch in meinen paßt: “babyhaft” (nicht “babyshaft”). Das ganze ist wohl eine gemischte Geschichte.

  82. Whut? Impediment occurs in German now???
    With a more or less English pronunciation, of course – for more elegance. It’s not being treated as a German word, but as a Fremdwort of distinction.

  83. Suppose Americans changed things so that only such percentages of its minorities were held in prison that were statistically typical on a global scale. Would that be more acceptable ?
    Well, yeah, ’cause there’d be fewer black and brown people in cages.
    Suppose that the most populous countries decided to crack down on their minorities. There would be many more persons from minorities in prison, but each country would still hold the same percentage of them as the others do. That should be equally acceptable, according to the statistical argument that you are implicitly deploying.
    I trust you won’t mind if I take this is as knee-jerk, Grumbly contrarianism, because I can’t even figure out what you’re objecting to. Are you really against comparisons? Sure, I guess if the world were worse, then we would all have lower standards. So what?
    Jim, the statistics of incarceration are a tricky subject.
    The mass incarceration of black people in the U.S. is not “tricky”; it’s heinous. And it strongly undercuts the story, so popular in this country, of racial progress since the civil rights movement.
    Well, first of all, the US keeps a much larger proportion of its total population in prison. Most, I hear, are in there because the US has a War on Drugs
    Yes, and (to complete the picture) the War on Drugs is waged disproportionately against minorities, especially blacks. Racist rhetoric morphed during the civil rights movement into law and order rhetoric, which was then used to justify draconian drug laws (correlating with no rise in drug activity) — laws that police received huge incentives to enforce (money, seized property, guns, other military equipment) and that could only be enforced with any regularity in ghettos, because politically connected whites wouldn’t tolerate such frequent violations of their civil liberties.
    The data are out there; you just have to connect the dots. And then, if you want to see it firsthand, just observe the proceedings of a Drug Court in any major U.S. city. You’ll see a parade of poor young black men — convicted of nothing that doesn’t go on in half the country’s university dorm rooms — be interrogated by a likely white judge as to whether or not they’ve behaved over the past few weeks. And Drug Court is a relatively enlightened program.

  84. I trust you won’t mind if I take this is as knee-jerk, Grumbly contrarianism, because I can’t even figure out what you’re objecting to.
    That’s certainly how I took it. I certainly hope he isn’t serious, because it would be as repugnant a view as… well, I don’t want to bring in comparisons involving the notorious hairdresser, so I’ll just say it would be distressing.

  85. Well, yeah, ’cause there’d be fewer black and brown people in cages.
    Depends on how it’s done. The percentage of minorities in prison could be lowered by incarcerating more whites, which I think is Grumbly’s point. The problem, IMHO, is not how many members of minorities we lock up, or what percentage of those we lock up are members of minorities, but how many people overall we lock up for very little or nothing at all.

  86. The percentage of minorities in prison could be lowered by incarcerating more whites, which I think is Grumbly’s point.
    Theoretically, but we’re talking millions of whites. So no, not in reality. Considering that a racist justice system is in itself a bad thing, I’m still not sure what Grumbly’s point was, or at least why he would make it.
    The problem, IMHO, is not how many members of minorities we lock up, or what percentage of those we lock up are members of minorities, but how many people overall we lock up for very little or nothing at all.
    Michelle Alexander argues the opposite persuasively in the book I linked to earlier: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The expansion of the U.S. drug war, and the resultant ballooning of the U.S. prison population, from roughly 350,000 to 2.2 million, coincided with the end of Jim Crow, and that wasn’t an accident. The last overt system of racial subjugation was replaced by a “colorblind” system of racial subjugation. Whites and blacks use and sell drugs at the same rates, but blacks are persecuted for it disproportionately, and then, after they’re caged (or in lieu of caging), they’re discriminated against with perfect legality: stripped of voting rights, excluded from the mainstream economy, banned from all sorts of federal assistance programs, etc. The system no longer discriminates against all blacks, or never discriminates against whites — it’s no longer pure — but it’s still largely intact; and race is central to it, not incidental. The rhetoric of law and order was deployed against Martin Luther King before drug dealers in Newark, and if it didn’t appeal to poor whites (who’ve been played against poor blacks since Bacon’s Rebellion, their racism fostered by economic as well as psychological bribes), the drug war never would have expanded and the prison population never would have boomed in the first place. A significant percentage of the U.S. black population has still never enjoyed full rights of citizenship.

  87. Jim, Hat: knee-jerk, Grumbly-contrarianism
    Not at all. It’s you guys have got your knees fibrillating in an ecstasy of libertarian outrage.
    I said absolutely nothing as to whether the state of affairs you describe is right, just or fair. Even in Germany, judging mostly from what I have seen on TV over the last decades, I have gained the impression that what Jim writes is an accurate description:

    the War on Drugs is waged disproportionately against minorities, especially blacks. Racist rhetoric morphed during the civil rights movement into law and order rhetoric, which was then used to justify draconian drug laws (correlating with no rise in drug activity) — laws that police received huge incentives to enforce (money, seized property, guns, other military equipment) and that could only be enforced with any regularity in ghettos, because politically connected whites wouldn’t tolerate such frequent violations of their civil liberties.

    My comment further up can be compressed into one incontrovertible sentence: “A comparison of the imprisonment statistics of two countries implies nothing about whether the legal and police measures in those countries are fair or unfair, just or persecutory”. Both of you seem to think differently. In fact you seem to be implying that there are imprisonment quotas – perhaps divinable by meditation on “natural justice” ? – that can be filled without risking a charge of persecution, especially if those quotas are in line with those of other countries. So if all countries had the same imprisonment quotas as America, outrage over unfair imprisonment would have one less argument to deploy ?
    If equal percentages of whites were imprisoned by corrective “positive action” subjecting them to the same draconian drug laws, you would regard this as only fair ? Equal persecution under irrational and draconian laws is OK ? Also I think you’re kidding yourself about the number of “politically connected whites” in America. According to surveys regularly published here, most Americans, of whatever color, don’t even know who the Vice President is, and they believe that the world was created 6000 years ago. Do you mean by “political connections” knowing someone who can get you off the hook by leaning on the judge with whom he plays golf ?
    The problem with the unjust measures under discussion is that they are unjust on the ground. They do not become more or less unjust by theoretical comparison with injustice statistics elsewhere. I get the impression that both of you think that there must be something persecutory involved in the mere fact that imprisonment rates are different across different racial groups. That blacks, or whites, actually might be committing more (not made-up) crimes than non-blacks, or non-whites, seems inconceivable to you. The economic and social roots contributing to such racial differences in each case – the causes that should be addressed to ameliorate the situation – fade into the background, and fairness is reduced to head-count.
    Well, I strongly disagree with such a position. I believe that the existing, systematic abuses by courts and the police in America should be combatted for what they are. Theoretical comparisons of imprisonment quotas between different countries are no substitute for attention to, and action against, injustice right on your doorstep. If anything, such comparisons only muddle the issues.
    As you will remember, I have been particularly exercised over the last few years by the differences in the drug laws between America and Germany, in connection with my friend Ralf (now off Schore, married and with a one-year-old son). You meet all kinds of people of all nationalities in the various drug scenes here and the prisons, not just pitiable junkies. Still, I agree with David that “the principle ‘therapy instead of punishment’ … has greatly reduced drug problems and associated criminality throughout the EU”.
    I measure the success of this principle here in Germany in terms of what I have experienced on the ground in Germany. But there has been more at work here than a single principle, namely German political and social structures, German mentalities. These are different from those in the States. To put it crudely, I believe that more has to change in America than just the drug laws, if “therapy instead of punishment” is to have any effect there. In any case, putting people in cages for years just for smoking dope is not going to improve matters.

  88. In fact you seem to be implying that there are imprisonment quotas – perhaps divinable by meditation on “natural justice” ? – that can be filled without risking a charge of persecution, especially if those quotas are in line with those of other countries. So if all countries had the same imprisonment quotas as America, outrage over unfair imprisonment would have one less argument to deploy ?
    Stu, you really don’t find that a somewhat absurdly deployed ad absurdam to the simple citation of a few comparative stats? I never said they were defining; there are of course instances in which such stats could be misleading. But this isn’t one of them. So the stats are telling. That’s why I mentioned them.

  89. That blacks, or whites, actually might be committing more (not made-up) crimes than non-blacks, or non-whites, seems inconceivable to you.
    No, it’s not inconceivable. But according to my reading (and, less importantly, my experience), in this case it’s just not true. Why do you assume I’m going my gut and pulling stuff out of my ass when I’ve already linked to relevant literature?

  90. “I was afraid. I was very, very afraid. When you are in a crunching machine like that [the US justice system], you have the impression it is crushing you to death. I felt ground under its heel, humiliated, and I wasn’t able to say a word. I have suffered a violent experience.”…Strauss-Kahn justified spending £35,000 a month on a town house while released on bail, saying he had no choice: “It was that or returning to Rikers Island.”

  91. John Cowan is the only person, of those commenting here, who has understood my quite simple point. He writes:

    The percentage of minorities in prison could be lowered by incarcerating more whites, which I think is Grumbly’s point. The problem, IMHO, is not how many members of minorities we lock up, or what percentage of those we lock up are members of minorities, but how many people overall we lock up for very little or nothing at all.

    I repeat what I said: South Africa is irrelevant to recognizing and combatting American injustice. The treatment of minorities in other countries is irrelevant to recognizing and combatting American injustice. Comparative statistics can be a start to understanding something we are not familiar with, but racial injustice on one’s doorstep in America is not such a thing.

  92. Poor, unemployed people are more likely to be incarcerated than rich people with jobs. They’re also more likely to be black than white. Short of eliminating poverty, the most effective reform of the US justice system (as well as the cheapest) would be the decriminalization of drugs. Try and get that one passed.

  93. That’s bizarre!

  94. John Cowan is the only person, of those commenting here, who has understood my quite simple point.
    No, I’ve understood it; I’ve just found it both preposterous and inapposite.
    To the main point you seem to think beyond my powers of cognition — the point you earlier “compressed into one incontrovertible sentence: ‘A comparison of the imprisonment statistics of two countries implies nothing about whether the legal and police measures in those countries are fair or unfair, just or persecutory’ — I offer a quote from the book I’ve been recommending:

    It may be surprising to some that drug crime was declining, not rising, when a drug war was declared. From a historical perspective, however, the lack of correlation between crime and punishment is nothing new. Sociologists have frequently observed that governments use punishment primarily as a tool of social control, and thus the extent or severity of punishment is often unrelated to actual crime patterns. Michael Tonry explains in Thinking About Crime: “Governments decide how much punishment they want, and these decisions are in no simple way related to crime rates.” This fact, he points out, can be seen most clearly by putting crime and punishment in comparative perspective. Although crime rates in the United States have not been markedly higher than those of other Western countries, the rate of incarceration has soared in the United States while it has remained stable or declined in other countries. Between 1960 and 1990, for example, official crime rates in Finland, Germany, and the United States were close to identical. Yet the U.S. incarceration rate quadrupled, the Finnish rate fell by 60 percent, and the German rate was stable in that period. Despite similar crime rates, each government chose to impose different levels of punishment.
    Alexander, Michelle (2010-02-09). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Kindle Location 238). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

    Now maybe you’ll want to make your point smaller, insisting that only comparative stats involving racial rates of imprisonment are irrelevant. But you’d still have to argue that point.
    South Africa is irrelevant to recognizing and combatting American injustice. The treatment of minorities in other countries is irrelevant to recognizing and combatting American injustice. Comparative statistics can be a start to understanding something we are not familiar with, but racial injustice on one’s doorstep in America is not such a thing.
    This, of course, is just an assertion. I cited apartheid in South Africa because it’s generally accepted as having been racist and I was arguing that America, too, is racist. Now I don’t claim the fact that America imprisons a greater percentage of its black population to be itself a complete demonstration of my argument; I claim merely that it is indicative of it and that, given what most people assume to be true of South Africa (that is was a racist country) and of America (that it is no longer a racist country), people might find it interesting — it might spark exactly the kind of debate I think would be useful. Now, you could in theory explain why the fact (that America imprisons a greater percentage of its black population than South Africa at the height of apartheid) is misleading stated alone; you could cite reasons for the fact other than American racism. But you haven’t — except one that isn’t true (that blacks commit more crimes). You’ve merely insisted on some abstracted, dubious philosophical grounds that the fact I cited cannot be relevant, even though common sense says otherwise.

  95. Short of eliminating poverty, the most effective reform of the US justice system (as well as the cheapest) would be the decriminalization of drugs.
    I’d go one step further and say the legalization of drugs, but yes, I agree. It’s just that there’s more to it than this next statement of yours implies:
    Poor, unemployed people are more likely to be incarcerated than rich people with jobs. They’re also more likely to be black than white.
    I really encourage you to read Michelle Alexander’s book. It’s carefully reasoned, and it’s shocking.

  96. David Marjanović says:

    Du würdest doch eher “königinhaft” als “königinnenhaft” sagen, oder ?

    Nie.

    Wie stellt sich denn Mannheim zu Verbindungen mit -haft ?

    Mannheim? Was ist in Mannheim?

    Ich empfinde die Substantive, die in -haft-Verbindungen tatsächlich auftreten, semantisch eher als Genitiv- denn als Pluralformen – wenn eine Mehrzahl nicht schon ins Auge sticht. Ein etwaiges “n” wäre aus euphonischen Gründen eingefügt worden. “Heldenhaft” = “von der Art eines Helden”, nicht “von der Helden Art”. Man kann sich in vielen Fällen Einzahl oder Mehrzahl denken, wie’s beliebt: “gönnerhaft”, “massenhaft”, “lehrerhaft”.

    Heh. This is perhaps of more general interest, so I’ll go back to English.
    Precisely because you’re not a native speaker, you’ve understood the historical development of this somewhat chaotic insertion of binding elements into noun compounds. Indeed, those elements are descended from genitive-singular endings, as constructions like der Sonnen Schein “the sun’s shine” came to be interpreted as der Sonnenschein “the sunshine” 500 years ago.
    Native speakers are not aware of this, unless they’ve studied it, because two things have happened since then:
    1) All sorts of case markers came to be interpreted as plural markers; case marking has been increasingly left to the article. Today, the singular is Sonne in all four cases, and Sonnen is the plural in all four cases; “the sun’s shine” is der Schein der Sonne (or, poetically, der Sonne Schein); der Sonnen is unambiguously genitive plural. BTW, Masse is declined like Sonne; Massen as in massenhaft is plural.
    2) The genitive itself has withdrawn from people’s heads. As we discussed not long ago, it’s missing from most dialects, and even in the conservative standard you find Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika rather than *Vereinigte Staaten Amerikas.
    What’s going on in my head is that the first element of a compound (or, rather, all but the last) is turned into a prefix. The prefix form of a noun can look like the nominative singular, the genitive singular or the plural; which form it is has to be learned by heart (rules are only forming now, according to a recent paper that sounds convincing to me). If pressed to rationalize it, I’d probably say “like princesses in general”, therefore prinzessinnenhaft, but this is, at least mostly, a rationalization.
    This explains why the connecting elements have become dissociated enough from genitive endings that there are nouns whose prefix forms do not look like the nominative singular, the genitive singular or the genitive plural. Starship? Sternenschiff. Stern, Sterns, Stern, Stern; Sterne, Sterne… oh, here it is: the dative plural happens to be Sternen. (Accusative is Sterne again.)

  97. I’d go one step further and say the legalization of drugs
    What’s the difference?

  98. Crown: Decriminalization in this context means that only -civil penalties, the equivalent of parking tickets, are imposed. It also often means that possession is tolerated while purchase and sale remain criminal. It is a form of harm reduction, like distributing clean needles.
    Jamessal: I was only trying to explain Grumbly’s point, on the assumption that you had overlooked what he meant, and by no means to defend it. Clearly you do understand it, so that’s enough of that. I myself also understand your point about the racism of punishment quite directly, as a consequence of being a white person who has people of color making up most of my immediate family. My father the law professor talked quite a bit about the criminalized class (which always overlaps with race in America), as exposed in what he called “the crimes of existence: if you are standing still, it’s loitering, and if you are moving, it’s vagrancy.”

  99. I note that if you internalize producer/product rather than cause/effect (from the other thread), you evade the question implied above “Who’s responsible for [stands in a causal relationship] the Third Reich, Hitler et al. or the people who voted him into office?” Obviously both of these groups were necessary but not sufficient, producers but not causes.

  100. “the crimes of existence: if you are standing still, it’s loitering, and if you are moving, it’s vagrancy.”
    That’s quite brilliant, and I’ll have to squirrel it away for future use.

  101. Oh well I meant legalize it, then. That would be silly, giving everybody a ticket. Do people actually want to do that? It’s nuts.
    Sometimes I think it’s the biggest problems that are the easiest solved. It probably means I’m a fascist.

  102. David Marjanović says:

    and if you are moving, it’s vagrancy

    Or simply Driving While Black.

  103. My father the law professor talked quite a bit about the criminalized class (which always overlaps with race in America), as exposed in what he called “the crimes of existence: if you are standing still, it’s loitering, and if you are moving, it’s vagrancy.”
    Your father was wiser than he knew — or rather, from what I’m learning about your family, exactly as wise as he thought himself to be, neither more nor less, with no illusions about the causes of that wisdom. Anyway, a relevant passage:

    The “drug-courier profiles” utilized by the DEA and other law enforcement agencies for drug sweeps on highways, as well as in airports and train stations, are notoriously unreliable. In theory, a drug-courier profile reflects the collective wisdom and judgment of a law enforcement agency’s officials. Instead of allowing each officer to rely on his or her own limited experience and biases in detecting suspicious behavior, a drug-courier profile affords every officer the advantage of the agency’s collective experience and expertise. However, as legal scholar David Cole has observed, “in practice, the drug-courier profile is a scattershot hodgepodge of traits and characteristics so expansive that it potentially justifies stopping anybody and everybody.” The profile can include traveling with luggage, traveling without luggage, driving an expensive car, driving a car that needs repairs, driving with out-of-state license plates, driving a rental car, driving with “mismatched occupants,” acting too calm, acting too nervous, dressing casually, wearing expensive clothing or jewelry, being one of the first to deplane, being one of the last to deplane, deplaning in the middle, paying for a ticket in cash, using large-denomination currency, using small-denomination currency, traveling alone, traveling with a companion, and so on. Even striving to obey the law fits the profile! The Florida Highway Patrol Drug Courier Profile cautioned troopers to be suspicious of “scrupulous obedience to traffic laws.” As Cole points out, “such profiles do not so much focus an investigation as provide law enforcement officials a ready-made excuse for stopping whom-ever they please.”
    Alexander, Michelle (2010-02-09). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Kindle Locations 1395-1397). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

  104. I note that if you internalize producer/product rather than cause/effect (from the other thread), you evade the question implied above “Who’s responsible for [stands in a causal relationship] the Third Reich, Hitler et al. or the people who voted him into office?” Obviously both of these groups were necessary but not sufficient, producers but not causes.
    Love that note.

  105. Was ist in Mannheim?
    Der Dudenverlag.

  106. The Florida Highway Patrol Drug Courier Profile cautioned troopers to be suspicious of “scrupulous obedience to traffic laws.”
    This is not as harebrained as it is being made to seem. Sometime in the ’70s, I happened to be driving around casually in downtown Bonn at around 3 in the morning on a Saturday night. I forget why I was there – maybe I couldn’t sleep, or was coming back from somewhere. Anyway, I remember being conscious that this is a rather American thing to do, and that I had better pay strict attention to the speed limits so as not to excite suspicion.
    Naturally I was stopped by a patrol car, and a policeman asked me what I was doing. I explained the circumstances as above, and asked whether I had infringed on some law. He answered that he had noticed me because I was obeying the speed limits. Around that time of the morning there are drunken drivers who drive very carefully in order not to excite suspicion.

  107. Well, maybe the 4th Amendment doesn’t mean very much to you over there in Germany; maybe all slippery slopes in your country have been sandpapered since the 3rd Reich and guidelines that justify the interrogation of every downtown driver, from the most carefully lawful to the most recklessly dangerous, strike you as benign, reasonable, unobtrusive police policy: but (in case you’ve somehow failed to glean the fact from this thread) we have reasons in America to be wary of trusting our law enforcement agencies with such boundless discretion, reasons in this case having to do with the systemic subjugation of minorities. Does your personal anecdote at all speak to that, or were you being again, forgive me, contrarian?

  108. By “sandpapered” I meant, rather ambiguously I now see, “layered with sandpaper and thus no longer slippery”; maybe “rock-salted” would have been better.

  109. Jamessal: Grumbly may be in Germany, but he’s no German, he comes from the Republic of Texas.

  110. John C.: You know, I think he may have even told me as much over one of our chess games, although it must have slipped my mind. I’m also thinking that in the future Grumbly and I should relegate confrontations to the chessboard, where 64 squares and 32 pieces necessitate a degree of pertinence for each move. Not that I won’t continue to enjoy his other comments, and even palaver with him, if he also so desires.
    Do you play chess, John?

  111. Fuck, bad link above for the chess site.

  112. That would be silly, giving everybody a ticket. Do people actually want to do that? It’s nuts.
    Unfortunately decriminalization is as far as even forward-thinking countries are able to go, because they’ve often signed treaties with the U.S. that forbids legalization. Portugal is such a country. But at least when Portuguese police do hand out summonses, the court proceedings that follow are thoroughly decent and humane.

  113. “…that forbid legalization” — sorry.

  114. I don’t play chess, being extraordinarily crappy at it. I have little strategic sense, so the games I enjoy are primarily tactical.

  115. Jim is a tough customer at chess. I had expected that I might prevail by psychological warfare of the kind “old warrior intimidates whippersnapper”. Unfortunately for me, he gave back as good as he got in that line of play.
    What I remember is making some spectacular sacrifices a few times, and then needing another 80 moves to win or avoid losing. He absolutely refuses to cave in – thus revealing that I am not as good at offence as I had hoped. We played quite a few games when I was out of work for several months. However, since I’ve been back in harness, my time for and interest in chess has waned a bit.

  116. Jim would make a great lawyer. Sadly for the Supreme Court he’s a fantastic writer instead.

  117. David Marjanović says:

    Found a case where the prefix form is not found anywhere in the declension: abstract nouns in -schaft. They are feminine, so the singular is -schaft and the plural -schaften in all four cases, yet the prefix form is -schafts- as in Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänskajütenschlüsselbund.

    Der Dudenverlag.

    *rülps*
    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Österreichisches_Wörterbuch :-)
    …Yeah, OK, I have often wondered if Minderwertigkeitskomplex is in there, though I’ve never bothered to look. …Hey! Wait! -heit and -keit are like -schaft: feminine, no ending anywhere in the singular, -en in all cases in the plural, -s- in the prefix form!

  118. Jim is a tough customer at chess.
    Thanks, Stu. I remember you giving just as good as you got. And though I do hope you remain employed, I also hope that the chess bug strikes again and that you’ll shoot me an email if it does. I’ve been reading in a few chess books, but’s that’s a long way from studying with any seriousness; I’ve learned a few principles (about pawns, knights, and bishops) that have slightly improved my game, but there’s so much to learn — so many openings — and my endgame remains particularly weak… it would take a lot more time than I have to really absorb those books. Which isn’t to say that when you send that email you shouldn’t picture me deep in study, with a 2400 rating, baring my teeth!

  119. Jim would make a great lawyer.
    Thanks, AJP. It’s actually a bit of a fantasy, but yeah, I want to try and become a Great Novelist first — and, somewhere in between, obviously, an ice cream magnate.

  120. Always good to have ice cream to fall back on.

  121. Incarceration rates of indigenous Australians is another scandal, one that has largely gone unnoticed outside Australia. I think I’m with jamessal on this one.

  122. Glad to have you in my corner, Bathrobe!
    Also curious about the situation in Australia, about which I know nothing.

  123. What corner would that be, Jim and Bathrobe ? Jim, you’ve been rather combative about something or other, but I’m not clear what that is. My own remarks about statistics being a two-edged sword excited a great deal of miss-is-as-good-as-a-mile outrage on the part of you and Hat.
    Despite my explicit agreement with your description of injustice agains minorities in America – in my comment on September 19, 2011 12:09 AM above I even quoted your words – you seem still to believe that someone disagrees with you – me, I suppose – and that sides must still be taken, corners occupied and trenches dug out. But for what ?

  124. Thank God for Grumbly, I thought this thread was petering out. What happened to the 400-comment threads of yesteryear?

  125. Oh Crown, now you’ve spoiled the surprise. I thought nobody would guess my motives. Where indeed are the 600-comments ficelles d’antan ?

  126. The same thing that happened to the .400 hitters of yesteryear: pitching has improved so much that it’s no longer possible for hitters to do that well.
    Anyway, huge comment threads are usually triggered by the hopelessly intransigent who don’t know when to stop.

  127. Jamessal, I have no first-hand experience. To get an idea, read this by Australian journalist John Pilger (he’s a leftie, so watch out!) It’s ten years old, but I doubt that the situation is that much different.
    http://www.johnpilger.com/articles/fixed-race
    There are a couple of sections you will find familiar. Here is one of them:
    ‘The violence continues. The aboriginal lawyer Michael Mansell says that the imprisonment rate of aborigines and their rate of death in custody is the highest in the world – higher, even, than in South Africa and the US. If the same rate were applied to whites in prison, 8,000 would have died in the past eight years. The Anti-Slavery Society called this “an apparent policy aimed at terrorising the black community”.’

  128. What corner would that be, Jim and Bathrobe ?
    The Good Corner, Stu. You feel Great while you’re there, and you get to be Right. Plenty of room!

  129. Comment threads here have not been like that as a rule. “When to stop” is not a well-defined notion, even though someone can always be found who likes to pretend that it is. The Über-Ich is überall.

  130. Well, maybe somebody should start quoting Valéry.

  131. Somebody should start quoting Valéry.
    That’s President Giscard d’Estaing to you.

  132. somebody should start quoting Valéry
    OK, let’s do that:

    L’homme est adossé à sa mort comme le causeur à la cheminée [=> people who talk a lot get their butts scorched]

    Ce qui n’est pas fixé n’est rien. Ce qui est fixé est mort. [ho-hum]

    Ce qu’il y a de plus profond dans l’homme c’est la peau [robbed from Wilde ??]

    La conscience règne et ne gouverne pas. [particularly appropriate, given some of the recent comments here]

    Il y a science des choses simples et art des choses compliquées. [my sentiments]

  133. Here’s one for you, Stu. Something about the Western Front, I think:
    Maintenant, sur une immense terrasse d’Elsinore, qui va de Bâle à Cologne, qui touche aux sables de Nieuport, aux marais de la somme, aux craies de Champagne, aux granits d’Alsace, — l’Hamlet européen regarde des millions de spectres. Mais il est un Hamlet intellectuel. Il médite sur la vie et la mort des vérités.
    Europes, de l’Antiquité au 20° siècle (1919), Paul Valéry, éd. Robert Laffont, coll. Bouquins, 2000, chap. La crise de l’Esprit, p. 405 à 410

  134. Crown, pretty much everything I have seen quoted by Valéry has made me want to read more – such as the passage you reproduce. But what is this Mais il est un Hamlet intellectuel ? Is there any other kind ?
    It was @H@ recently that someone (dearie ?) said that Hamlet is a callow youth and was probably played that way in olden times, until modernity got holt of him.

  135. Also, shouldn’t that be Somme instead of somme in your quote ? I don’t think Valéry means the marshlands of arithmetic.

  136. Not sure really if intellectual is the right word for your average portrayal. I do remember a brief discussion of Hamlet recently, and I think dearie was part of it.
    I thought the same about Somme but I wasn’t about to fuck around with une Wikiquote Française.

  137. Do you believe that the French are sans faute – in addition to being sans teeth, sans taste and everything ?

  138. It was @H@ recently that someone (dearie ?) said that Hamlet is a callow youth and was probably played that way in olden times, until modernity got holt of him.
    I know Auden was pretty rough on him, and I’ll look for quotes after I finish that piece on Australia Bathrobe linked to. (I’ve read enough to see that his “leftie” warning was quite apt, although it is interesting.)

  139. Here. See also Charles Perry’s comment halfway down the thread. The lovely expression “to chew the scenery” was new to me.

  140. New to me too. I meant to look it up when I originally read it, then forgot. Now I am au fait.

  141. What a memory, Ø.
    I was only just reading about John Pilger. About his father, Auberon Waugh, in his book Fathers & Sons, his son Alex writes:
    John Pilger, I have learned from one of his friends, was so terrified of my father that he used to blanch at the sound of his name.
    So there.

  142. Like asparagus ?

  143. Hmph. “Blench” – another word I just discovered that I have always misunderstood. I thought it was an intransitive variant of “blanch”.

  144. Then there’s blinch, as in the fifth stanza of “Sing Ho! for Piglet”:
    O gallant Piglet (PIGLET)! Ho!
    Did Piglet tremble? Did he blinch?
    No, no, he struggled inch by inch
    Through LETTERS ONLY, as I know
    Because I saw him go.
    As Piglet modestly says afterwards:

    “Did I really do all that?” he said at last.
    “Well,” said Pooh, “In poetry – in a piece of poetry – well, you did it, Piglet, because the poetry says you did. And that’s how people know.”
    “Oh!” said Piglet. “Because I – I thought I did blinch a little. Just at first. And it says, ‘Did he blinch no no.’ That’s why.”
    “You only blinched inside,” said Pooh, “and that’s the bravest way for a Very Small Animal not to blinch that there is.”
    Piglet sighed with happiness, and began to think about himself. He was BRAVE…

  145. I like John Pilger because he gave me the word ‘rictal’ (sorry, my vocabulary is quite poverty-stricken compared to Grumbly and LH):
    “Having reported four presidential election campaigns, from the Kennedys to Nixon, Carter to Reagan, with their Zeppelins of platitudes, robotic followers and rictal wives, I can sympathize.”

  146. Trond Engen says:

    Charles Perry in the other thread: Exactly right about Hamlet being a callow, self-dramatizing twerp. Everybody ignores how young he is. The soliloquy owed its 19th century reputation for profundity to the fact that it allowed actors to chew the scenery, but it should probably be read in the manner of somebody holding forth at a bull session.
    Oh, of course! That’s what I was reminded of when my wife recently showed me this.

  147. “Well,” said Pooh, “In poetry – in a piece of poetry – well, you did it, Piglet, because the poetry says you did. And that’s how people know.”
    When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

  148. How apt that that sentence occurs in a movie ! Hollywood has displayed a penchant for arch dialog from its very beginnings. I think that’s one reason why today’s philosophers like to cite Hollywood films, as for instance Zizek: it helps to keep the eyebrows lifted.

  149. John Pilger is better known as the actor who plays Crocodile Dundee.
    Piglet’s blinch is what I always think of when I see the word blanch used about a person (rather than a nut or vegetable).

  150. I admit the resemblance to Paul Hogan, but you are just having a little joke, aren’t you, AJP?

  151. It’s possible that Piglet was flinching.

  152. Joke? “John Pilger” is practically an anagram of Paul Hogan. Oh all right, yes.
    In more Australian news, I just discovered by accident that Julian Assange’s so-called unauthorised autobiography bears a close resemblance to something he put out in 1997. What does this mean?

  153. or blinking

  154. Crown, the title of the first article you linked is: “Julian Assange: ‘I am – like all hackers – a little bit autistic’”. In the press and on TV I find more and more non-autistic people describing themselves and others as “autistic”. All that seems to mean, though, is socially graceless, uncommunicative, and in general gobbled up with self.

  155. That’s just the headline. What he actually says is even worse:

    Later, when I became well known, people would enjoy pointing out that I had Asperger’s or else that I was dangling somewhere on the autistic spectrum. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun, so let’s just say I am – all hackers are, and I would argue all men are a little bit autistic.

    Whether you agree with Assange’s publishing secret stuff on Wikileaks or not (I do, I love it, the more the better), Julian Assange comes across to me more and more as a complete nitwit and fuck. “I’m autistic” is his self-centered excuse for not taking anyone else’s feelings, jobs etc. into account. That’s not to say he wasn’t also possibly set up by the CIA or whomever. The book I linked to, written in 1997 by Suelette Dreyfus and “researched” by Assange, has all the mannerisms of a badly-written spy novel:
    `Hello, Prime Suspect.’
    `Hiya, Mendax. How’s tricks?’
    `Good. Did you see that RMIT email? The one in Geoff Huston’s mailbox?’
    Mendax walked over to open a window as he spoke. It was spring, 1991, and the weather was unseasonably warm…

  156. Hat: We can only remember facts when they become to some degree legends. Lincoln said “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here”, but he was wrong; we mostly remember the battle because of his brief, mostly inaudible, barely applauded speech.

  157. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
    The words in that can be permuted without changing the sense much. Such sayings are memorable for structural reasons, apparently, not for their content:

    When the legend becomes fact, print the fact.

    When the fact becomes legend, print the legend.

    When the fact becomes legend, print the fact.

  158. We can only remember facts when they become to some degree legends. Lincoln said “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here”, but he was wrong; we mostly remember the battle because of his brief, mostly inaudible, barely applauded speech.
    I say, John, that’s as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.
    Not really, of course. I just learned that quote — said by Lincoln, of the doctrine of popular sovereignty, in one of his debates with Douglas — and this was my first chance to shoehorn it.

  159. we mostly remember the battle because of his brief, mostly inaudible, barely applauded speech.
    I must disagree; Gettysburg was one of the most important battles of the war and would be remembered no matter what. If you mean that “Gettysburg” calls up Lincoln’s speech in the minds of today’s Americans, that is of course true but is a much lesser claim.

  160. Gettysburg was one of the most important battles of the war
    But it’s remembered as THE most important battle of the war, even though Antietam, for instance, had a significantly higher body count. I don’t know enough to argue which of the battles was ultimately more important, body count aside, or if most of the unwarranted importance ascribed to Gettysburg stems from Lincoln’s address; but if somebody did make the latter case, and if the unwarranted importance were significant, then the claim advanced would be greater than one of mere association in the mind’s of today’s American’s, no?

  161. I don’t think importance can be decided by body count. Gettysburg ended any hope of Southern invasion of the North and convinced Europeans the Union was likely to win. Besides, I’m not sure it makes sense to say it’s remembered as THE most important battle of the war; it’s the most remembered battle because of Lincoln, but how many people would make the claim that because they’d heard of the speech, it must therefore have been the most important battle?

  162. The Gettysburg Address has resonance beyond the U.S. The phrase about government of, by, and for the people is part of the text of the Fifth Republic’s constitution and the founding statement of the Republic of China. It is one of the oldest and clearest statements of the principle of national self-determination, and never mind that the people who actually wanted self-determination (but not for their slaves) had lost the battle.

  163. I don’t think importance can be decided by body count.
    Of course not, though I imagine it has to factor. But really, I was just instigatin’. You know I wouldn’t challenge you on the Civil War, but I would sit back and watch you and John go at it, and since I have been doing a little reading about Lincoln lately (and I thought you might have minimized John’s point), I thought I had a chance of turning LH into my classroom for a brief flurry of comments. However, that was selfish; I’ve already picked John’s brain about Peirce and chess and racism, and I know you’ve got work to do. I’ve just been enjoying lounging in your bar this past week, after an overlong absence.

  164. I’ve just been enjoying lounging in your bar
    Hey, buy a beer, pal. And stop trying to pick fights with the other regulars; that’s what the alley out back is for.
    *wipes bar in a meaningful fashion*

  165. With my verbal retorts I feel rather wimpy when Jim is obviously looking for a rumble. I’m as aggressive as the next guy, as I’m sure nobody here will bother to doubt – but unfortunately I know nothing about manly problem-solving via fisticuffs. So I have to mince words, make sure he doesn’t get between me and the door, and hope for the best.
    If life had been fairer, I would have become a bouncer at The Metaphysical Club.

  166. I understand Mrs Palin is something of an expert on the Civil War.

  167. She would get get crushed between the combatants. There is a wonderful Russian animated short about a boxing referee and two boxers, that someone here linked last year. Does anyone still have the link ? The title may have been “Freedom” – anyway I remember it as “The Apotheosis of the Referee”.

  168. Found the link in this Hat blog, but the clip has been taken off YouTube for copyright reasons. The title is Брэк!

  169. Брэк! (the boxing command “Break (it up)!” when boxers clinch). I’ll fix the link in the earlier post.

  170. David Marjanović says:

    The same thing that happened to the .400 hitters of yesteryear: pitching has improved so much that it’s no longer possible for hitters to do that well.

    Mm, no. Any time the hitting average gets too close to 0.400 or too far away from it, the rules are changed to restore balance.

    Exactly right about Hamlet being a callow, self-dramatizing twerp. Everybody ignores how young he is. The soliloquy owed its 19th century reputation for profundity to the fact that it allowed actors to chew the scenery, but it should probably be read in the manner of somebody holding forth at a bull session.

    Or simply in the original Klingon. taH pagh taHbe’

    The Gettysburg Address has resonance beyond the U.S. The phrase about government of, by, and for the people is part of the text of the Fifth Republic’s constitution and the founding statement of the Republic of China.

    See also We, the peoples of the United Nations.

  171. Has pitching not improved since Ted Williams, David M.? I’m not a baseball fan, but I just assumed it had improved across the board, like basketball since the sixties. Anyone who doubts Lebron James would average not just a triple-double, but quite possibly a quadruple-double, in the days of the Big O., has never turned on ESPN Classic, or read the relevant stats about the pace of the game.
    Oh, shit. Did I really just thumb my nose at sports nostalgia after Hat warned me to stop picking fights? Never mind. Never mind. John Havlicek would cross up Chris Paul any day — even if he could barely dribble with his left hand.

  172. Has pitching not improved since Ted Williams, David M.?
    This is a fascinating question; you’d think the answer would have to be yes, since performance in other sports has, as you say, improved across the board, but it’s not clear to me that anyone has shown this to be the case for baseball. (It’s perfectly clear that there are a higher percentage of good pitchers and good hitters because the number of major league teams has not kept pace with population growth, which is one of the points that Gould’s article on .400 hitters makes, but that’s a different issue.)

  173. Mm, no. Any time the hitting average gets too close to 0.400 or too far away from it, the rules are changed to restore balance.
    The rules for the batting championship have been stable since 1957, and only Ted Williams (in that year) and Rod Carew (in 1969) have broken .380.

  174. The pitching mound was raised in 1968.

  175. David Marjanović says:

    Gould’s article on .400 hitters

    That, or rather the later version in the first chapter of his book Full House, is my only source of information about baseball.
    As I like to say, the book uses baseball to explain evolution; since I’ve read it, I’ve understood evolution, but I still don’t understand baseball. :-)
    I have the book, I’ll look up what I dimly remember.

  176. John Pilger is better known as the actor who plays Crocodile Dundee.
    Eh, all Australians look alike. Except Nick Nicholas.

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