How 9/11 Changed the Way Americans Speak

How 9/11 Changed the Way Americans Speak

Subtle Yet Profound Differences

Austin, Texas, USA. September 11, 2008. (Updated) The Global Language Monitor today released an updated analysis of how the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, The Pentagon, and the pending targets in Washington, D.C., widely suspected to be the White House or the Capitol Building, have changed the way Americans speak in terms of vernacular, word choice and tone.

Updating an earlier analysis completed on the Fifth Anniversary of the attacks, it a continued and historic change in an ‘unCivil War‘ in terms of the vitriolic exchange currently witnessed on the American Political scene.  According to Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst of GLM (, these are a few of the ways where the events of 9/11 have impacted the way Americans speak.

1. 9/11 — The first case is the use of 9/11, itself, as a shorthand for the 2001 terrorist attacks. Using various web metrics, 9/11 outpaces any other name, including the spelled out ‘September 11th” by 7:1 margin. This designation in itself it quite interesting. It is true that Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the Pearl Harbor attack as “December 7th, 1941 as a day which will live in infamy”. But there were no “12/7” rallying cries thereafter. Neither were the dates immortalized of the original battles of the Korean War, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident which preceded the major escalation of the Vietnam War, The First Gulf War, The Afganistan siege, or even the recent Iraqi Invasion. Only the 7/7 attacks on the London Subway system are recorded in common memory by their date (and primarily in the UK in general,  and London in particular).

2. Ground Zero — The name Ground Zero evokes a sacred place, where the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers once stood. It is also revered as a burial ground since thousands of bodies literally vaporized in the ensuing collapse with no remains found whatsoever. Almost universally, it is capitalized as any other proper name, with a few exceptions, most notably the New York Times. Even this week, The Times insisted on referring to Ground Zero in the lower case, calling it ‘the area known as ground zero’. (Sic) Names are officially bestowed in a number of ways, most often by bureaucratic committees following arcane sets of rules, answering to few. In this case, we kindly request those bureaucrats to follow the lead of hundreds of millions around the world who have formally bestowed upon that special place, the formal name of Ground Zero.

3. Hero — In mythology, heroes were men and women often of divine ancestry endowed with the gifts of courage and strength. In reality, everyday heroes of the late 20th and early 21st centuries were sports figures (‘Be like Mike’ and ‘Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio’), comic book and cartoon characters ala Superman and Spiderman, and all too frequently ‘anti-heroes’ known for the colossal damage they might inflict upon a helpless (and often hapless) world. Into this tableaux, came the heroes of 9/11, very real men and women, rushing into and up the Towers as everyone else was rushing down and out; rushing the cockpit of Flight 93, with knives and forks and steaming hot coffee, forcing the startled highjackers to abandon their plans of crashing into the Capitol or White House rather than the previously unheralded soil of Swanksville, PA; and the men and women who quietly stood their posts at the Pentagon, just doing their duty, not knowing if they would be subjected to another horrific, and more deadly, attack at any moment. In the post-9/11 world, the term has now come to apply to any who place their lives in danger to foster the public good, especially ‘first-responders’ such as: firefighters, EMTs, and police, who quietly place their lives on the line every day.

4. -stan — The suffix in Persian and related languages that means, literally, ‘land of,’ hence, Afghanistan or Land of the Afghans, or Kurdistan (or Kurdish Territories), or even this relatively new moniker: Londonistan.  Talibanistan, referring to Afganistan and the ‘tribal lands’ in Pakistan in the New York Times Sunday Magazine is the latest instantiation.

5. The unCivil War — Since 9/11 after a very short reprieve, the political discourse of American politics has, arguably, descended to its lowest level since the Civil-War era when Lincoln was typically depicted as a know-nothing, Bible-spouting Baboon. Even speech of the Watergate era was spared the hyperbole commonly heard today, as respect for the institution of the presidency remained high. Today, political opponents are routinely called ‘liars,’ are typically compared to Hitler, Nazis, and Fascists; are accused of purposely allowing New Orleans’ inundation in order to destroy disenfranchised elements of our population, and so on. It is very difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of this reaction. It has been suggested that in the face of a nearly invisible, constantly morphing, enemy, we have turned the attack inward, upon ourselves, and our institutions.

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Will the Beijing Olympics Finally Eradicate Chinglish?


  Is this the End to ‘Deformed-man Toilets’ and ‘Racist Parks’


  We think not.

Austin, Texas, USA.   July 30, 2008.   MetaNewswire.  There has been much publicity about Beijing’s vaunted attempt to eradicate Chinglish before the 2008 Games begin.  Menus at the top hotels have been replaced with standardized, albeit less poetic, versions (no more ‘exploding shrimp’.)

And many of the city’s traffic signs have been tamed (no more signposts to the Garden with Curled Poo).  “We have worked out 4,624 pieces of standard English translations to substitute the Chinglish ones on signs around the city,” said Lu Jinlan, head of the organizing committee of the Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages Programme (BSFLP).

Is this really the end of Chinglish, that delightful admixture of Chinese and English?

Studies by the Global Language Monitor suggest that Chinglish will persist – and even thrive – far after the Games have ended.

Chinglish is the outgrowth of several convening forces, including:

·    the widespread acceptance of English as a Global Language

·    the fact that some 250 million Chinese are currently studying English as a second, auxiliary or business language

·    he astonishing complexity and richness of the Mandarin language

·    the English language vocabulary is approaching the million word mark

·    The Chinese people evidently enjoy wearing Chinglish on their clothing

Mandarin has more than 50,000 ideograms each of which can be used to represent any number of words.  In addition, Mandarin is a tonal language meaning that tonal variations in pronunciation can distinguish one word from another.  Therefore attempting to map a precise ideogram to any particular word in the million-word English lexicon is a nearly impossible task.

The difficulty is further evidenced on the official Olympic website of the Beijing Olympic Games,, where it states that “we share the charm and joy of the Olympic Games”.  Hundreds of scholars have proofed the site and decided that the word charm is most appropriate in describing the Games.  In past Olympiads words such as ‘power’, ‘pride,’ ‘heroic,’ ‘majesty,’ ‘triumph,’ and, even, ‘tragedy’ frequently have been used to described the Olympic movement but the word ‘charm’ has largely been ignored.   Charm has a number of meanings including the ‘individuating property of quarks and other elementary particles’.  In this case, we assume the authorities were using the definition of charm as a transitive verb:  to attract or please greatly; enchant; allure; fascinate; or delight.

Finally, there is the on-going cross-pollination between English and Mandarin, with Chinglish at the epicenter of the movement.  Recently, the Ministry of Education (MOE) accepted some 171 neologisms into the Chinese language.   Words were considered only after they passed the scrutiny of a dozen scholars associated with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Institute of Linguistics.  These included a new ideogram for ‘brokeback,’ a word popularized from the banned movie Brokeback Mountain to indicate ‘gay’.

You will find brokeback in few English-language dictionaries, but it already has been accepted into the Chinese.  Words passed over for formal entry, which despite their frequency of use were deemed inappropriate included:  “cool”, “zip it”, 3Q for “thank you” and “kick your ass”.

Recently, the Global Language Monitor listed its all-time favorite Chinglish words and phrases.  These included:

·         Deformed man toilet (handicapped restroom)

·         Airline Pulp (food served aboard airlines – no explanation necessary

·         The slippery are very crafty (slippery when wet)

·         If you are stolen, call the police

·         Do not climb the rocketry (rock wall)


Chinglish Adds Flavor to Alphabet Soup

2/19/2008 (China Daily) — San Diego-based consultancy group - Global Language Monitor claims Chinglish is adding the most spice to the alphabet soup of today’s English by contributing more words than any other single source to the global language.

And the more Chinese I learn, the more appetizing this seems.

Subscribing to the Elizabethan definition of a word as “a thing spoken and understood”, GLM is using a predictive quantities indicator (PQI) to scan the Web for emergent English words and track their mainstream use over time.

As GLM president Paul JJ Payack says: “Language colors the way you think. Thinking in Chinese is completely different.”

And every day that I learn more Chinese, the more vibrant this coloration becomes in my mind. This is mostly because of the descriptive nature of the language, in which many words are created by mixing and matching diasylobolic words to create new diasylobolic words.

Generally speaking, English is more definitional, so its words are more terminological than descriptive. For example, a “spider” is a spider - the word in itself tells you nothing about what it represents. But the Chinese word for spider (zhizhu) literally translates as “clever insect” - a description it earns in Chinese by spinning intricate webs to ensnare prey.

In Chinese, you don’t ride a bike, bus or train; you instead respectively ride a (zixinche) “self-walk vehicle”, a (gonggongqiche) “public all-together gas vehicle” or a (huoche) “fire vehicle”.

A massage is a (anmo) “press and touch”. A pimple is a (qingdou) “youth bean”. Investing is to (touzi) “throw funds”. And when you don’t make your money back, the disappointment is conveyed directly as (saoxing) “sweep interest”.

While linguists ballyhoo English’s capacity for specificity, this has in some ways become its weakness, as the definitional often trumps the descriptive, with wonderful exceptions, such as “rainbow”. But that’s where the other widely vaunted strength of the language - its capacity to ravenously gobble up other languages’ words - could become a beautiful thing. And I’m glad to know the English language is developing a growing taste for Chinese food.

In the 1960s, there were about 250 million English speakers, mostly from the United States, the United Kingdom and their former colonies.

Today, the same number of Chinese possesses some command of the language, and that number is growing. One possibility is the plethora of localized “lishes”, such as Chinglish, Hinglish (a Hindi-English hybrid) and Spanglish (an English-Spanish hybrid) could branch so far from English, they become mutually unintelligible tongues sharing a common root, much as Latin did in Medieval Europe.

Many linguists agree that if the lishes splinter, Chinglish will likely become the most prominent offshoot by virtue of sheer numbers, giving Chinese primary ownership of the language.

Perhaps then, English could become more beautiful than I could now describe - at least with its currently existing words. (Contributed by China Daily)

The Million Word March. Fueled by Chinglish?

No Noising’ and ‘Airline Pulp’ named Top Chinglish Words

San Diego, Calif. November 22, 2006. ‘No Noising’ and ‘Airline Pulp’ have been named the Top Chinglish Words of 2006 in The Global Language Monitor’s annual survey of the Chinese-English hybrid words known more commonly as Chinglish. Though often viewed with amusement by the rest of the English-speaking world, The Chinglish phenomenon is one of the prime drivers of Globalization of the English Language.

The Annual Survey by the Global Language Monitor

The importance of Chinglish is the fact that some 250,000,000 Chinese are now studying, or have studied, English and their impact (and imprint) upon the language cannot be denied,” said Paul JJ Payack, President and The WordMan of the Global Language Monitor. “Since each Chinese ideogram can have many meanings and interpretations, translating ideas into English is, indeed, difficult. Nevertheless, the abundance of new words and phrases, unlikely as this may seem, can and will impact Global English as it evolves through the twenty-first century”.

With the English Language marching steadily toward the 1,000,000 word mark, there are now some 1.3 billion speakers with English as their native, second, business or technical tongue. In 1960, the number of English Speakers hovered around 250,000,000 mainly located in the UK and its Commonwealth of former colonies, and the US.

Some scholars maintain that you cannot actually count the number of words in the language because it is impossible to say exactly what a word is, talking rather of memes and other linguistic constructs, are afraid that Global English is just another form of cultural Imperialism. GLM take the classic view of the language as understood in Elisabethan England, where a word was ‘a thing spoken’ or an ‘idea spoken’.

Others say that English is undergoing a rebirth unlike any seen since the time of Shakespeare, when English was emerging as the modern tongue known to us today. (Shakespeare, himself, added about 1700 words to the Codex.) English has emerged as the lingua franca of the planet, the primary communications vehicle of the Internet, high technology, international commerce, entertainment, and the like.

Chinglish is just one of a number of the -Lishes, such as Hinglish (Hindu-English hydrid) and Singlish, that found in Singapore. A language can best be view as a living entity, where it grows just like any other living thing and is shaped by the environment in which it lives. With the continuing emergence of China on the world stage — and with the Olympics coming to Beijing in 2008, the state is now attempting to stamp-out some of the more egregious examples of Chinglish.

In its annual survey the Global Language Monitor has selected from hundreds of nominees, the top Chinglish words and Phrases of 2006.

The Top Chinglish Words and Phrases of 2006 follow:

1. “No Noising”. Translated as “quiet please!”

2. “Airline pulp.” Food served aboard an airliner.

3. “Jumping umbrella”. A hang-glider.

4. “Question Authority”. Information Booth.

5. “Burnt meat biscuit.” No it’s not something to enjoy from the North of England but what is claimed to be bread dipped in a savory meat sauce.

Bonus: GLM’s all-time favorite from previous surveys: “The Slippery are very crafty”. Translation: Slippery when wet!

Independent News (London): Chinglish Phrases on the Rise

People’s Daily (China): Global Language Monitor: Many Chinglish into English

The Sunday Times (London): Chinglish: It’s a word in a million

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Chinese Translation Exam Features GLM (Section 7)

Chinglish one of the Top Words of 2005!

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