Fighting Words: ‘Reliable,’ ‘Talented’ And Other Americanisms

by BILL CHAPPELL

In this free-wheeling era, when the English language is often applied with little supervision, it’s common for purists to complain about the abuse of words.

For instance, I dislike it when things are indicated instead of said. And impact gets rough treatment, as it’s transmogrified into a Franken-adjective (impactful) and is too often made to serve as a substitute for affect — probably by people who are unsure whether to use that word or effect.

And there should be a petition to remove the word literally from use, for at least a lengthy rehabilitation and perhaps a permanent retirement.

But I was surprised to learn that in 19th-century Britain, readers viewed words like lengthy and reliable as signs of the coming apocalypse. It turns out that those words, along with talented andtremendous, were imports from America.

As Matthew Engel writes at the BBC, “The poet Coleridge denounced ‘talented’ as a barbarous word in 1832, though a few years later it was being used by William Gladstone. A letter-writer to the Times, in 1857, described ‘reliable’ as vile.” [Read More]

What Started the “Two Way” discussion (Below)

By Matthew Engel I have had a lengthy career in journalism. I hope that’s because editors have found me reliable. I have worked with many talented colleagues. Sometimes I get invited to parties and meet influential people. Overall, I’ve had a tremendous time.

Lengthy. Reliable. Talented. Influential. Tremendous.

All of these words we use without a second thought were never part of the English language until the establishment of the United States.

The Americans imported English wholesale, forged it to meet their own needs, then exported their own words back across the Atlantic to be incorporated in the way we speak over here. Those seemingly innocuous words caused fury at the time.

The poet Coleridge denounced “talented” as a barbarous word in 1832, though a few years later it was being used by William Gladstone. A letter-writer to the Times, in 1857, described “reliable” as vile.

[Read More on the BBC]

John McWhorter on Palin’s ‘remarkedly lucid prose’

 

Palin’s Emails: What Her Remarkably Lucid Prose Says About the Art of Teaching Writi

  • John McWhorter
  • June 16, 2011 | 12:00 am

Sarah Palin’s emails are telling us something about remedial writing classes at our universities and colleges, and it’s not what you think. Call her defensive or parochial based on the cache of her spontaneous writings while serving as governor of Alaska, but

something easy to miss is that Palin, in contrast to her meandering, involuted speaking style, is a thoroughly competent writer—more so than a great many people most of us likely know, including college graduates.

Indeed, her facility in writing proves something one might be pardoned for supposing she was exaggerating about in Going Rogue, her autobiography, in which she limns a childhood portrait of herself as a bibliophilic sort of tot:

Reading was a special bond between my mother and me. Mom read aloud to me – poetry by Ogden Nash and the Alaska poet Robert Service, along with snippets of prose …. My siblings were better athletes, cuter and more sociable than I, and the only thing they had to envy about me was the special passion for reading that I shared with our mother.

That’s right, Sarah “you betcha” Palin was, of all things, a bookworm, excited to learn to spell “different” and winning a poetry contest for a poem about Betsy Ross. And as such, it is predictable that her emails would evidence such casually solid command of the language—even if her oral rendition of it is a different matter entirely.

Once we understand that, it leads to some serious questions, as posed by books getting buzz at present such as Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift and In the Basement of the Ivory Tower by the anonymous “Professor X.” How sensible is our assigning millions of freshmen each year to classes intended to teach them a skill so deeply rooted in unconscious facilitation at an early age?

To get a sense, it helps to see a few of these emails. Because email is written speech, it’s easy to miss artfulness in them. Yet, take this Palin passage: “Even CP has admitted locking up tax rates as Glenn suggests is unacceptable to the legislature, the Alaskan public, this administration, and the Constitution.”

The spelling is flawless—and unlikely to be completely a product of spell-check, which misses errors and often creates others. More to the point, she has an embedded clause (“locking up tax rates”) nested into a main one, with another clause “as Glenn suggests” nested within the embedded one. That’s good old-fashioned grammar school “syntax.” I have known plenty of people with B.A.s who could barely pull it off properly at gunpoint, and several others who would only bother to at gunpoint.

Equally graceful despite its mundane content: “Cowdery telling a kid what’s acceptable and what isn’t inside these four walls??? Puleeeze. A three-pound puppy vs. all the CBC crap that he helped dump around here?” You hear an actual human voice here. We tell some people “I can hear your voice in the way you write”—because it’s unusual for people to be able to “write” themselves. Palin is one of the people who can. [Read More.]

Palinpalooza: GLM analysis for Huffington Post

Sarah Palin’s Emails Written At 8th Grade Level — Better Than Some CEOs

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The huge cache of Sarah Palin’s emails released Friday offered not only a chance to see what she was writing about during her uncompleted term as Alaska’s governor, but also an opportunity to see how well she writes.

AOL Weird News brought samples to two writing analysts who independently evaluated 24,000 pages of the former governor’s emails. They came back in agreement that Palin composed her messages at an eighth-grade level, an excellent score for a chief executive, they said.

“I’m a centrist Democrat, and would have loved to support my hunch that Ms. Palin is illiterate,” said2tor Chief Executive Officer John Katzman.

“However, the emails say something else. Ms. Palin writes emails on her Blackberry at a grade level of 8.5.

“If she were a student and showing me her work, I’d say ‘It’s fine, clear writing,’” he said, admitting that emails he wrote scored lower than Palin’s on the widely used Flesch-Kincaid readability test.

“She came in as a solid communicator,” said Paul J.J. Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor. The emails registered as an 8.2 on his version of the test. “That’s typical for a corporate executive.”

An example of Palin’s strongest writing came on Jul. 17, 2007 in an email to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell about the controversial Gravina Island Bridge, infamously called the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

“We cant afford it, the Feds won’t pay for it, the general populace isn’t placing it as a high priority … can you diplomatically express that?! Of course we want infrastructure — and this is NOT a “bridge to nowhere” (that is so offensive), but as it stands today with the highest-cost bridge design selected by the Ketchikan community, we need to find a lower-cost alternative [if] a bridge will be built.”

“She’s very concise. She gives clear orders. Her sentences and punctuations are logical,” Payack said. “She has much more of a disciplined mind than she’s given credit for.” [Read More.]




Make No Mistake: Obama’s Favorite Buzzwords

You Don’t Say

This article has been shared from The Daily iPad app

 

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‘Make no mistake,’ Obama is a big fan of his own catchphrases

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BY ANTHONY DECEGLIE AND JENNY MERKINMONDAY, MARCH 28, 2011

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Statistics gathered by the Global Language Monitor reveal that Obama has said it 2,924 times since he was sworn into office more than two years ago.

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Other signature Obama sayings include “Here’s the deal” (1,450 times) and “Let me be clear,” (1,066 times). In a nod to the tough financial times he has faced, the president’s fifth most popular motto is “It will not be easy.”

Obama’s reheated rhetoric has recently come under fresh scrutiny. Parts of his speech warning Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to honor the United Nations’ cease-fire pact were strikingly similar to the words spoken by President George W. Bush when he launched military strikes in Afghanistan.

“Our goal is focused. Our cause is just. And our coalition is strong,” Obama said. Bush, nearly a decade earlier: “Your mission is defined. Your objectives are clear. Your goal is just.”

Make no mistake, The Daily is hoping Obama lifts his creative game and “wins the future” (another rhetorical crutch) when it comes to this public speaking deal. Although we understand it will not be easy.

Scale of Top Sayings (Source: The Global Language Monitor, as of March 25)

#1 “Make no mistake” — 2,924 times

#2 “Win the future” — 1,861 times; 9 times in his 2011 State of the Union address

#3 “Here’s the deal” — 1,450 times

$4 “Let me be clear” — 1,066 times

#5 “It will not be easy” — 1,059 times

‘Refudiate’: Why Sarah Palin’s Twitter flub may outlast her

By John Austin | Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Pundits jumped on Sarah Palin when she recently tweeted that people should “refudiate” plans for a New York City mosque near Ground Zero.

“Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate,” Palin tweeted.

The tweet was quickly deleted, and refute replaced refudiate, but the clips of Palin using the word on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show have not gone away. Nor has the flap over how the former governor and vice presidential candidate let her linguistic slip show.

Still, while Palin is no Shakespeare — a famous coiner of words — it may be wrong to misunderestimate refudiate too quickly.

“In English, the tradition is words bubble up from the people,” said Paul J.J. Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor in Austin. “If it’s used, it’s accepted as a word.”

George W. Bush’s notorious use of misunderestimate is a good example of how what’s called a portmanteau word can find acceptance.

Like an old-fashioned portmanteau traveling case that opens into two compartments like a book, portmanteau words such as refudiate combine two other words in form and meaning.  [Read More.]



“Refudiating” Word Games: What would Edwin Newman Think?

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What would have the late newsman and grammar guru Edwin Newman thought about airwaves and cyberspace filled with “refudiate” and “guido?”

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By JERE HESTERSep 16, 2010
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It’s hard to refudiate that we lost one of our great TV journalists and guardians of the language with the recent death of NBC’s Edwin Newman.

In fact, it’s impossible to refudiate – because “refudiate” isn’t a word.

We imagine that Newman, who displayed a strong sense of humor in his TV commentaries, writings and appearances on David Letterman’s old morning show and “Saturday Night Live,” might have gotten a rueful chuckle out of Sarah Palin’s tweeted mash-up of “refute” and “repudiate.”

Newman, whose death at age 91 was reported Wednesday, famously asked in “Strictly Speaking,” his 1974 bestseller on the state of language, “Will America be the death of English?”

GLM Comment:  In fact the exact opposite has occurred — American English has spurred the English to a new level, from Old English, to Middle English, to Modern English to what might be deemed, in contemporary fashion, English 2.0.

Recent evidence doesn’t bode well for the mother tongue. The folks at Merriam-Webster this month named “refudiate” the Word of the Summer – and reported that the non-word spurred many searches on its online dictionary.

Meanwhile, The Global Language Monitor last week released its annual list of the popular “telewords” (which isn’t really a word itself). Placing No. 3 on the group’s “Top Words from Television” list for the 2009-2010 TV season was “guido.”

That anti-Italian slur became a catchword, thanks to the cast of “Jersey Shore” – a place, at least on MTV, where young people foolishly acting out stereotypes are celebrated and rewarded. (In other signs of the times, The Monitor’s top two entries were “BP Spillcam” and “dysfunctional.”) [Read More.]



Politics Now Driven by Competing Narratives

Clarence Page’s (Chicago Tribune, contributor to PBS News Hour, etc.)  take on this new phenomenon.

GLM Comment:  The Global Language Monitor has been tracking political buzzwords since 2003.  See

our latest news on Political Narratives at our NarrativeTracker pages.

With less than two months to go until the November midterm elections, a clear winner is beginning to emerge in the race to declare the year’s biggest political buzzword.

Hey, buzzwords matter. Who could forget — no matter how much we might like to – such hits from years past as “chad,” “Swift Boat” and “lipstick” as it might be smeared on a pig or a pitbull?

On Tuesday, the website Global Language Monitor, based in Austin, which has been monitoring words on thousands of news, blogs and social network sites since 2003, announced the No. 1 political buzzword so far this year – beating out “climate change,” “Obama Muslim,” “lower taxes” and even “tea partiers” – is (drum roll please) “the narrative.”

The Narrative? “It’s been running strong since last spring,” GLM President Paul J.J. Payack told me in a telephone interview.

That confirmed my suspicion. I don’t even have a computerized algorithm like Payack does, but I, too, had begun to notice in my fanatical surfing of political media that the word “narrative” was popping up with increasing frequency.

For example, Steve and Cokie Roberts observed in a recent column, “For a growing number of Americans, President Barack Obama’s narrative no longer defines who he is.”

Columnist Maureen Dowd similarly wondered back in June how such a gifted storyteller as Obama could “lose control of his own narrative.”

E.J. Dionne, writing in The New Republic, notes Obama has decided to “confront a deeply embedded media narrative that sees a Republican triumph as all but inevitable.”

In fact, “narrative” was popping up so much in reference to Obama as he grappled with crises like the Gulf oil spill that a Washington Post reporter was inspired to lead one feature with, “Sing to me of the Obama narrative, Muse.”  [Read More.]



Evacuee, Apocalypse & Hiroshima: Katrina Continues to Impact Language

Katrina Continues to Impact Language, Media and Politics

 

AUSTIN, Texas.   (August 30, 2010) – Katrina had a deep and lasting impact on how America looks at catastrophes and crises in the early 21st century.  And Katrina’s influence is becoming all the more pervasive as the effects of the crisis linger and the reality of the magnitude of the destruction continues to come to light.  An exclusive analysis by the Global Language Monitor (GLM) using it analytical resources, underscores how some five years after the event, Katrina continues to have an out-sized impact on our cultural landscape.  Last year, GLM ranked the Top Stories in the Global Media during the first decade of the 21st century.  Katrina ranked No. 8.

Background:  It is often said that the war in Viet Nam was the first war to be broadcast directly into American living rooms (back when people still gathered for dinner together and watched network news broadcasts).  We watched in horror at the mass destruction of the Towers falling a quarter of a century later, many of us on our computer screens.  But it was the unfolding of the inundation of New Orleans after the levees gave way that provided us with any number of up-close-and personal tragedies that would unfold (and float) before our disbelieving eyes.

Among the most prominent example of Katrina’s continuing cultural impact include:

  1. Refugee vs. Evacuee – At the time GLM’s analysis found that the term for the displaced, refugees, appeared 5 times more frequently in the global media than the more neutral, evacuees.  At the term, refugee was cited as racially insensitive.  Never endorsed by the AP Stylebook, currently the word refugee is used in the media some fifty times more than evacuee.
  2. “Heckova job, Brownie!” – GLM named this paraphrase of President Bush’s actual remark, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” as the most memorable phrase of 2005.  The phrase, according to a Reuter’s report at the time, “became a national punch line for countless jokes and pointed comments about the administration’s handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster”.  Even now variations of the phrase are used to criticize less-than-stellar efforts, such as when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “Heck of a job, Barry” (her nickname for President Obama) in her Dec. 29th, 2009 column.
  3. Apocalyptic Imagery — The Southeast Asia Tsunami that killed over 200,000 people occurred nine months before Katrina, so audiences were somewhat familiar with horrific images of exotic locales as scenes of mass destruction.  However, the thought of the devastation unfolding in a major, revered US city, with the world watching the only remaining superpower, apparently unable to mobilize the necessary resources to stop the ongoing destruction and loss of life proved more than the press could handle.  Immediately, the global press echoed with apocalyptic imagery.  The Times in London led with: “Devastation that could send an area the size of England back to the Stone Age” and continued describing “a paranoid post-apocalyptic landscape … where corpses lie amid a scene of Biblical devastation, any semblance of modern society has gone.”
  4. The Hiroshima Analogy – Katrina hit landfall shortly after the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.   AP cited Mississippi governor Haley Barbour “Struggling with what he calls Hurricane Katrina’s nuclear destruction … [showing] the emotional strain of leading a state through a disaster of biblical proportions”.  However, the analogy continues to be used in light of the lingering effects of a drawn-out and, some would argue, less-than-successful recovery effort.  There are still 55,000 uninhabitable buildings half of which the new mayor has pledged to remove by 2014; many still lack essential services; the levees remain in questionable condition, and most importantly, some 20-to-25% of the population has failed to return.

5.  Storm and Scientific Terminology — The public has a much better understanding of the specific terminology surrounding hurricanes and tropical storms.  This would include:

  • Saffir-Simpson Scale, which predicts the destructive power of a hurricane,
  • Category or Hurricane Scale that measures the strength of a hurricane’s strength, from low to high (1 to 5).  Katrina peaked at Category 5 but at landfall fell to Category 3.
  • Storm Surge, the wall of water pushed in from of a hurricane.  Katrina’s was about 30 feet, the highest on record.
  • Levee, the massive, supposedly impermeable earthen walls, meant to hold back storm surges.  New Orleans has some 350 miles of levees.  An unfortunate fact about levees, once they let water in, they can actually prevent it from going out.
  • Naming System for Hurricanes, which has been in place for some fifty years.   They names are alphabetically sorted, alternating men’s and women’s names. The list was exclusively female until 1979. Names are recycled every 6 years. Influential hurricanes have their names retired.  Katrina was obviously retired.

6.  The name Katrina, according to the Social Security Administration, has fallen sharply in popularity.  In 2004 Katrina was the 274th most popular names for girls born in the US; in 2009 it ranked at 815.

For historical coverage of Hurricane Katrina from the Global Language Monitor, go here.



Making ‘One Whole’ After the Spill

The Associated Press

By Cristina Silva, Saint Petersburg Times Lambasted by charges that his response to the gulf oil spill comes across as emotionally flat, President Barack Obama has made repeated vows to stand by the victims “until they are made whole.” His ambitious promise now stands as the rhetoric of choice among political leaders looking to sympathize with those affected by the environmental and financial crisis. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry and Gov. Charlie Crist have made near identical pledges and a trio of Democratic congressmen demanded oil giant BP postpone $10 billion in dividend payments to stockholders until “the people of the gulf (are) made whole.” Problem is, what does it mean? ”That is the one question I have been asking for five weeks,” said Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, who fears the sheets of oil sliding toward the shores of his Alabama tourist haven will bring new financial hardships after weeks of canceled hotel reservations and half-empty seafood shacks. “That is the one question we need to know before we can move forward.” Politicians are well aware of the power of words. Obama, a legal scholar with a penchant for headline-grabbing speeches, hasn’t elaborated on his definition of “made whole,” but his repetition suggests he thinks it is a good message. It means he wants to help. It means he cares. But, as with many political messages, “made whole” has more than one layer. In legal jargon, “made whole” implies full restitution. A stolen laptop is replaced. Hospital bills are paid. A cracked windshield is repaired. But the Gulf of Mexico crisis likely won’t be so easily resolved. Some losses could be hard to prove in court or even single out, creating a complicated web of cause and effect that might not immediately produce a culprit, said economic and legal scholars. ”What (Obama) said is true. They (BP) are going to be responsible for the damage they did,” said Fred Levin, a trial lawyer in Pensacola. “The question is, what is the damage they did?” In other words, will those indirectly hurt by the oil spill be “made whole,” too? Or does the promise only apply to the victims who can successfully make their case in court? Consider some potential ramifications. If affected business owners can no longer afford to send their children to private schools, should the schools file a claim? If the private schools hire fewer teachers because of declining enrollment, do the unemployed teachers get help? And if those teachers then can no longer afford to buy quality meat from the local supermarket, how does the supermarket prove its losses are tied to the oil spill? It’s simply not clear, said Peter Henning, a former federal prosecutor who teaches criminal law at Wayne State University in Detroit. ”To the extent you are talking about just the cleanup, yes, BP is on the hook, but to the extent that you are saying we are going to return these communities to what they were, the law does not appear to extend that far,” he said. “While it is couched in legal terms, this is really more of a political promise than a legal assertion.”

Wordsmiths countered “made whole” is not an abstract concept. ”To ‘make whole’ means exactly what it says, meaning not to kind of prop you up, not to give you some aid, but to put you back precisely where you were,” said Paul JJ Payack , president of the Global Language Monitor based in Austin, Texas, which analyzes speech. “It is a very precise choice of words and they know it.”

BP so far has paid $49 million to individuals or small businesses through its claims process and sent out roughly 18,000 checks, spokesman Max McGahan said. ”We have said we will compensate individuals and businesses in full for whatever damages or loss of income has resulted from the oil spill. We have made that commitment very clearly,” McGahan said. He declined to address the “made whole” pledge. Read More in the St Petersburg Times

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