On Swearing, Ctd

Prospero peruses the subject:

Taboo words can survive underlying social change. Church attendance has plummeted over the past few decades in Quebec, but a distinctive clutch of swear-words in the local variety of French are still some of the roughest words in the language: chalice (calisse!) and “host” (hosti), for example. The words remain powerfully charged partly because they are simply learnt as taboo words, and serve a special function divorced from their original context.

Swearing activates a bit of the brain that is used for other kinds of emotional responses like shouting and crying. The reason it is so hard not to swear in front of a child when you stub your toe is that you haven’t consciously processed the words through the same part of the language engine that you would use to explain a maths problem. Studies have even shown that swearing makes physical pain more bearable. …

A last class of words, though not quite as powerful, fill out the picture.

Retarded in America, and spastic in Britain, once respectable medical words, are now unutterable in polite company. Throw in complaints against gay and lame as all-purpose negative adjectives, and the picture is complete. Taboo words have moved from the religious through the sexual and excretory. But in the modern West, the last truly shocking words are those that refer to disadvantaged groups: women, gays, members of racial minorities and those with disabilities. Those liberal newspaper editors who proudly reprinted offensive Muhammad cartoons from Charlie Hebdo out of solidarity with the slain cartoonists would never dream of using the words that slur people from Muslim countries: towelhead, camel jockey, Paki or (take a slow breath) sand nigger. Western taboos now respect neither god nor sex, but they do respect individuals. And this is as it should be.

Except for barbra streisand:

Previous Dish on swearing here and here. Update from a reader:

Prospero didn’t mention Quebec’s finest churchly swear word, Tabarnac (Tabernacle). It has the virtue that it can be drawn out into three long syllables, in the same manner as Muuuu tha fuk. Read all about swearing in the Distinct Society at Wikipedia.

What’s In A Black Name? Ctd

Readers ramp up the thread:

About the discussion on discriminating against black names, there is also this research, where the researchers sent out emails to professors from many disciplines seeking help/information about their PhD programs. The emails were signed by generic White, Black, Hispanic, Indian, and Chinese male/female names. Then they measured the response rate: how fast the professors responded and how willing they were to help the student. Regardless of the professors’ discipline, sex, race, White males had it the best, and the Asians the worst. This only changed with Chinese professors responding to Chinese students. So, there you go.

A few readers also point to a study entitled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?” The abstract conclusion states, “White names receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews.” Another redirects to the real world:

I read your post and thought perhaps employers need to institute anonymous application processes. A quick search online revealed that some organizations (and governments) have done just that with positive results.

Here is a link to a recent article summarizing the efforts of the City of Celle, which is in Germany. I find it encouraging that the data suggests that hiring process becomes fairer when applications are judged only on their work histories, levels of education, skills, and accomplishments. Seems like a strategy we could all embrace, does it not?

Another makes a broader point:

I think there’s something off about the post about how employers are making “not an entirely unreasonable assumption” when discounting the educational achievements of black applicants. The evidence presented is that of SAT scores, that black students scored less on average than the mean scores accepted to universities. The implication being, universities are accepting less-than-optimal students for the sake of affirmative action. And, ok, there may be some argument or debate there.

However, the purpose of SAT scores are as a predictive measure of how students will do in college. Beyond the college application, they have absolutely no relevance. Why not? Affirmative action as a policy may help students with lower SAT scores get into college, but it doesn’t go to class for them, or write their papers, or take their final exams. Graduating college is an achievement that is mostly up to the student. So, a college degree on a resume stands on its own. My point is, affirmative action is actually not a plausible explanation for discrimination, at least not where education is concerned. If it was, then employers would ask for SAT scores on resumes. Guess what? They don’t.

Another shares an anecdote:

Many years ago I was a state civil rights investigator.  I remember one college-educated long-time head teller at a bank who was finally upset enough about the young white guys with no college and no experience heading straight into management tracks that she filed a complaint.  I talked to the branch manager about it.  He told me that the young guy he’d just hired reminded him of himself when he was just starting out and he wanted to give the new guy the same chance someone had given him.  He would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that he didn’t have a racist bone in his body.  He thought the world of his head teller.  He relied on her to train all the new staff.  But in his unconscious world view, black women were tellers, white men were management.

Another attests to the often fickle nature of hiring:

I’m a hiring manager at a software company. I receive dozens or hundreds of applications for every open position. Generally I skip cover letters altogether and spend somewhere between 20 and 30 seconds scanning resumes to come to an initial decision of whether to reject or follow-up. Even if there weren’t all sorts of academic studies telling us so, it’s pretty freaking clear to any even marginally self-aware person that this process is fraught with implicit biases. Have I heard of your college? Did I go to your college? Do I wonder whether you’ll “fit in” with our other employees? Do I want to drink beer with you? Is your job experience as impressive as it seems, or did you benefit from being a “diversity hire?”

This stuff sucks, but it’s the reality of the hiring process in good old meritocratic Silicon Valley. Other industries are probably even worse.

Update from a reader, who quotes a previous one:

So, a college degree on a resume stands on its own. My point is, affirmative action is actually not a plausible explanation for discrimination, at least not where education is concerned. If it was, then employers would ask for SAT scores on resumes. Guess what? They don’t.

ummm … actually … yes they do!

Big-name consulting firms such as McKinsey and Bain, as well as banks like Goldman Sachs, are among the companies that ask newly minted college grads for their scores in job applications, …Some other companies request scores even from candidates in their 40s and 50s. Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder and CEO of Amazon, is one of the most famous proponents of using SAT scores in hiring decisions. Bezos scored highly on a standardized IQ test when he was only 8 years old, and in his early days as a manager, he liked to ask candidates for their SAT results in interviews he conducted. He has said that “hiring only the best and brightest was key to Amazon’s success.”

Heads Up

I’ll be live-blogging the SOTU at 9 pm tonight, and we’ll be covering other reactions among the blogs and tweets thereafter. Tune in.

Update from a reader:

Know that I’ll be drinking IPA out of my sweet new Dish mug during the State of the Union tonight. One healthy chug every time the camera focuses on a scowling Republican.

Was Selma Really Snubbed? Ctd

An insider joins the debate, quoting a reader:

A qualified film not receiving “enough” nominations is no reflection of the quality of the film. Instead, it’s simply a failure of the film’s PR hacks’ effectiveness at marketing directly to the Academy voters. It’s not the film’s fault, nor is it the Academy’s fault; it’s the film’s publicists’ fault. In the case of Selma, I’ve seen more publicity for Paddington.

I’ll call bullshit on that one. To say Paramount’s failure to get a screener to guild members on time is the reason for Selma‘s failure to nominate director Ava Duvernay is condescending to those members that vote on said nomination. As a Producers Guild member, almost every member I know sees it as their responsibility to see all the major potential nominees and they take that responsibility seriously. Aside from screeners, you’ll notice at the bottom of your local paper advertisements for the prestige films a notice that guild members are accepted free at all the major multiplexes. Combine that with the screenings the studios hold before and after a film’s release in not only New York and L.A., but also San Francisco, Atlanta and Chicago, there are plenty of opportunities for guild members to see all of the pictures. Being in the Academy especially is a big honor (besides being an organization that’s very difficult to join) and Academy members treat the nominations period like the High Holidays.

And it may just be that Duvernay’s lack of a nomination has nothing to do with the color of skin but rather the fact that Selma is, frankly, a good but not great movie.

While her approach is refreshingly unsentimental in its portrait of not only King but other heroes of the Civil Rights movement, from a nominating standpoint, historically the Academy likes movies that make the heart ache. Selma‘s exacting and serviceable portrayal of the political minefield Dr. King and his fellow activists had to wade through didn’t strike that nerve – at least among the Academy folks I saw the movie with. Of course, one can say, well then, by that logic Steven Spielberg shouldn’t have gotten a nomination for Lincoln. But the latter film had an artistry that Duvernay lacked.

Of course, that’s just my opinion – but apparently a lot of other guild members agree with me. But Duvernay can take heart that Christopher Nolan was also snubbed as Best Director and I guarantee we’ll still be talking about Interstellar ten years from now. But that’s the Oscars for ya.

Two cents from another reader:

What’s intriguing about this snub is that Selma is exactly the type of movie the academy generally loves. It’s historical, ostensibly a biopic, liberal, and most crucially, “important.” It’s an issue-driven film.

My main take away from the nominations is that four of the films – Boyhood, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Whiplash – are all quirky, independent, character-driven films. Basically, they are movies that don’t usually get a lot of love from the Academy. Think about it: Richard Linklater – Linklater! – is the front runner for best director. For film buffs (er, snobs) like myself, that is a huge thing.


I am with your reader who wonders why the only “people of color” who seem to matter when people are counting heads (or faces, as it were) are African-Americans, not Hispanic or Asian artists. (I also agree that the first issue is who is writing, directing, and starring in the movies, which necessarily determines the pool of potential nominees.) Last year, people were up in arms that Saturday Night Live didn’t have any black women (but did have two black men), but no one seems to mind that the only Hispanic cast member in recent memory is Horatio Sanz (and I can’t think of another one in its 40-year history).  And I don’t think they’ve ever had an Asian cast member, unlike the Daily Show.  (Asian-Americans have become a significant force in the comedy world – Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Aasif Mandvi, not to mention Margaret Cho – yet they are nowhere on SNL.)

The show “ER” had a similar track with Hispanic characters.  I watched the show for its entire run and can recall one Hispanic doctor – John Leguizamo, whose character was an irresponsible drug user who crashed and burned.  In contrast, there were many, many African-American doctors, including one of the main characters in the original cast.  (And plenty of Hispanic nurses and patients.)  They also reflected a diverse population in other ways – several gay or lesbian doctors and one with a physical disability.

In short, it’s time for people to realize that we are not just a country of black and white people, that we are a multicultural country with many different nationalities and ethnic groups, and that any discussion of diversity needs to look beyond these two categories.

Update from another reader:

I have to call bullshit on your “insider” calling bullshit. My partner is a member of the Academy and STILL hasn’t received his screener of Selma … and neither have many people he’s talked to. We were invited to a screening for Academy members in LA that took place on the Sunday night before Christmas. Since it was my partner’s first day off in many months and we had relatives coming in town the next day, we declined to attend, assuming a screener would arrive in the mail any day. It’s true that members can watch the films at most theaters for free, but the time between Selma‘s release and the nominations was a very small window during the holidays. If Al Sharpton wants to have an “emergency meeting” in Hollywood about the supposed snub, perhaps he should start with the marketing department at Paramount. They clearly failed to do their job.

Hathos Alert

The headline says it all:

“I have not seen ‘American Sniper’,” writes New Republic’s reviewer of ‘American Sniper’

Well, almost all:

Update from a reader:

The headline most assuredly does NOT say it all. It is an opinion piece about the characterization of American Sniper put forward by the marketing of the movie.  The author disagrees with this characterization.  It is not in any way, shape or form a “movie review,” but if you just lie and say it is, then you can create another phony right-wing Gotcha! moment to chew up the next news cycle.

By the way, thank you for not having a comments section.

Another reader retorts:

Unfortunately, the headline does say quite a bit. Look at what the article actually says.

In the fourth paragraph, the author states that he’s reminded of Zero Dark Thirty, and that in that movie the use of torture is given such a nuanced portrayal, that people who supported and defended the practice left “believing their views were validated.” Next, “I have not seen American Sniper. But if the trailer is any indication, Eastwood’s film, like Zero Dark Thirty, tries to make a straightforward situation more complex than it is.”

So I guess he’s saying … Zero Dark Thirty takes a nuanced view of something that, perhaps, one doesn’t need to take a nuanced view. Based solely on the trailerAmerican Sniper sure looks like it might do the same thing. He doesn’t actually know, because he hasn’t actually watched it.

Fair enough: this isn’t a movie review. It’s poseur clickbait that doesn’t stand on solid ground, but wants you to think that it does. I had higher expectations of my students when I taught a first-year undergraduate course on written communications at the University of Illinois. 

Finally, I do not know if the commenter’s other point was meant to be sarcastic, but I applaud your the lack of a comment field, for reasons all too eloquently put by The Oatmeal here.

Headline Of The Day

All-women’s college cancels ‘Vagina Monologues’ because it’s not feminist enough

Update from a reader:

I am not particularly liberal, but a deeper dive into the reasons that Mt Holyoke had decided to not do their annual performance of Vagina Monologues is not really about how feminist the play is.  It is about how the licensing of the play forbids any modification to (or criticisms of) the script within the performance [namely to include those who identify as women but don’t have vaginas]. Rather than put on the VM production again (for something like the 10th time), they are developing their own script and production. I don’t see much to mock about this. I don’t see any educational value for having college students put on a play that explicitly forbids them from modifying or interpreting it – particularly when they have performed the play several times before.

To Protect And Bomb

This week ProPublica reported on law enforcement’s overuse of flashbang grenades:

Police argue that flashbangs save lives because they stun criminals who might otherwise shoot. But flashbangs have also severed hands and fingers, induced heart attacks, burned down homes and killed pets. A ProPublica investigation has found that at least 50 Americans, including police officers, have been seriously injured, maimed or killed by flashbangs since 2000. That is likely a fraction of the total since there are few records kept on flashbang deployment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit wrote in 2000 that “police cannot automatically throw bombs into drug dealers’ houses, even if the bomb goes by the euphemism ‘flash-bang device.’” In practice, however, there are few checks on officers who want to use them. Once a police department registers its inventory with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, it is accountable only to itself for how it uses the stockpile. ProPublica’s review of flashbang injuries found no criminal convictions against police officers who injured citizens with the devices.

The article goes on to detail several incidents of flashbang misuse. Sullum comments on one of them:

One of those Little Rock raids involved a grandmother accused of illegally selling beer and food from her home—a misdemeanor that triggered the use of a battering ram and a flash-bang, which started a fire in a pile of clothing. “If she hadn’t been selling illegal items out of the home, no warrant would have been served,” the police spokesman told ProPublica. “What you call extreme, we call safe.”

To my mind, tossing explosive devices into the homes of nonviolent offenders is decidedly unsafe; in fact, it is inherently reckless, especially since there is always the possibility that innocent bystanders like Treneshia Dukes or Bou Bou Phonesavan will be injured or killed. Even if the police had found the drugs they were expecting in those cases, that would hardly justify their paramilitary assaults. Flash-bangs, like SWAT tactics generally, should be reserved for life-threatening situations involving hostages, barricaded shooters, and the like. They should not be casually tossed into the mix of techniques for busting unauthorized sellers of bud or beer.

Update from a reader:

To make matters worse in the case of Bou Bou, the county is refusing to pay the $1 million+ in medical bills that the family now has and will continue to have as Bou Bou will need at least 10 more reconstructive surgeries over the next 20 years. The county says that it would be illegal for them to pay the bills as state law grants them sovereign immunity from negligence claims, so any money they would pay the family would constitute an illegal “gratuity”. It’s unconscionable that the police can nearly kill this kid with their reckless and overzealous tactics and just walk away without having to pay a dime to the family they just financially destroyed.

Map Of The Day

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJxrTzfG2bo&start=13]

History professor Claudio Saunt created the above time-lapse, as well as a corresponding interactive map, to emphasize “the fact that the United States is built on someone else’s land”:

By the time the Civil War came to an end in 1865, it had consumed the lives of 800,000 Americans, or 2.5 per cent of the population, according to recent estimates. If slavery was a moral failing, said Lincoln in his second inaugural address, then the war was ‘the woe due to those by whom the offense came’. The rupture between North and South forced white Americans to confront the nation’s deep investment in slavery and to emancipate and incorporate four million individuals. They did not do so willingly, and the reconstruction of the nation is in many ways still unfolding. By contrast, there has been no similar reckoning with the conquest of the continent, no serious reflection on its centrality to the rise of the United States, and no sustained engagement with the people who lost their homelands.

Update from a reader:

“The fact that the United States is built on someone else’s land”. Um, isn’t this true of every modern nation? Isn’t it true that the Native Americans fought and killed each other to take land from their neighbors?

(Hat tip: Nathan Yau)

Busted With An Eggcorn, Ctd

Just when we thought the thread was over:

I grew up visiting a cabin in the Sierra that my grandfather built after WW2, when my dad was little.  Many of the stories about the cabin involved a Scandinavian journeyman carpenter they hired to help build it.  Because of this, for much longer than I care to admit, I thought a finish carpenter was a carpenter from Finland.


I fly up and down the East Coast a lot.  For a while I was puzzled about the flight attendants’ announcement about putting “your rollerboards” in the overhead compartments … until I realized that “rollerboards” is a corruption of “roll-aboards” – what small bags with wheels were called when they first came on the market.


My associate just tried to describe someone as shady and said: “He is all smoky mirrors,” instead of smoke and mirrors.  I told her about your eggcorn thread and warned her that I would be submitting this.

Busted. Many more eggcorns below:

OK, I don’t know if you’ve heard this one already, but …

In the third grade, shortly before Christmas, we were coloring pictures to take home to our parents.  Incidentally, it was Maryland in the 1950s, when each school day began with a prayer, and there certainly was no pressure to avoid religious themes.  A friend of mine drew a nativity scene that included a short, fat man over by the side, among some of the animals.  The teacher was prompting each of us to describe our work, and she asked my friend who the rotund gentleman was.  His reply was that it was Round John Virgin.


From my French-speaking, Tunisian sister-in-law yesterday: “We should go back there, because it will be a safe heaven.”


You may be oversaturated with these, but I can’t resist the best one I have seen. I am an appeals prosecutor and read a lot of trial transcripts.  One time an attorney said he wanted to be sure his client’s rights were protected, and the trial judge, known for his loquaciousness, said (according to the transcript), “We try to protects a defendant’s rights deciduously.”  He obviously said “assiduously,” and the court reporter got it wrong.  I couldn’t resist sending a copy of the transcript page to the judge and the defendant’s attorney with the question:  should we be protecting a defendant’s rights deciduously or coniferously?


Read this today on The Atlantic’s readers’ discussion page:

This administration, beyond being the most polarizing and immature in history, is utterly and completely tone-death.

Tee hee.


Sorry to be so late with this one, but these eggcorns are hilarious. Many years ago I was at a meeting in a Midwestern city.  One evening a colleague and I went to an English-style restaurant, where the waitresses were referred to as “wenches” (this was in the 1980s).  I ordered roast beef, and the “wench” asked me if I wanted O Juice with it.  I readily said yes.  When we were served, my friend wondered where the orange juice was.  Actually, I was responding to a familiar question that dated to the cafeteria in college, where they often served roast beef “au jus,” but the servers would always ask us if we wanted O Juice with it.


My sister always wanted to be outside playing with the boys; she resented it when grandmother kept her indoors to learn to knit and sew and do “crewel work.”  I’m sure the frustration contributed to her habit, ever after, of calling it “cruel work.”


My wife’s grandmother, a sweet lady from the hills of Kentucky, wrote us that she was diagnosed with “high potension.” We were stumped. Hypertension.

One more:

My son’s eggcorn harkens back to the original.  As a preschooler many years ago he understood that acorns came from oak trees.  He then extended the concept to pine trees, calling pinecones pinecorns.  No amount of gentle correction made any difference.  They remained pinecorns for a long time.

Another reader takes a stab at a new subject:

If you’re stopping eggcorns, how about some spoonerisms? JUST THIS SECOND I made up a cool spoonerism from a passing conversation, a habit of mine. I like how it sort of mirrors the original phrase which I think aficionados score extra points for: “Roars to be fecund with.” You’re welcome.

Update from another:

Oh man, I can get on board this spoonerism train. My favorite to date is a take on describing something as highly active/pungent: “kicking like Bruce Lee” turns into “kicking like loose bree.”

And to add to the eggcorns, growing up, my sister didn’t like to make any hard and fast plans, but just “play it by year.” We rib her about that to this day.


A contribution to your never-ending thread: The head of the local home-school association once wrote, in a newsletter item following a school vacation, that she hoped everyone had had a nice “restbit.” I’ve used that ever since; it sounds even more pleasant than a respite.

What Sets Off Fundamentalists?

Ron E. Hassner ponders the triggers of religious violence:

[W]hat is truly puzzling about fundamentalist wrath is not merely why some fundamentalist Muslims but not others choose to resort to terrorism against cartoonists but why there is no such Islamist terrorism against abortion clinics, for example, a prime concern for Protestant fundamentalists.  For reasons anchored in theology, history and politics, these Christians would never consider reacting with force to a cartoon mocking Jesus just as a cartoon mocking Moses would barely elicit a shrug from a fundamentalist Jew. But fundamentalist Jews riot, and violently so, in response to desecrations of the Sabbath and the unearthing of Jewish remains by archaeologists, two themes that neither their Muslim nor their Christian counterparts have much interest in. …

Why don’t Protestant extremists bomb abortion clinics in Europe?  Why have there been no Muslim riots in response to blasphemous cartoons in the U.S.? We cannot explain why fundamentalists attack without studying religion and we cannot explain when and where they attack without studying politics.  This point is lost both on anti-Muslim voices, who wish to forge an essentialist link between Islam and violence, and on postcolonial activists who strive to place the blame for violence anywhere but on the shoulders of its Islamists perpetrators.

Update from a reader:

I had an enlightening conversation with a Kuwaiti medical student who is on placement at my practice today.

He is studying medicine at Queen’s University in Belfast and would describe himself as a “secular” Muslim, horrified by the events in Paris. Nevertheless he recognises why some followers of Islam, are enraged by the care-free willingness of some non-Muslims to mock things that are fundamental to their beliefs, albeit that he does not support their deeds in any way.

However, our conversation got round to the reasons why some Muslims take up this jihad activity. He knows some who have left his own country but others from Iraq and further afield as well, who have been captivated by Islamic State and motivated almost entirely by revenge. Many of these people have been directly affected by the Iraq wars but other conflicts including Afghanistan have had a significant impact on their apparent conversion from relatively secular, peaceful individuals to radical jihads.
Most have been directly affected with the loss of several family members. The messages and propaganda promoted by I.S. have captured their imagination in a much more effective way than previously occurred with organisations such as Al Qaeda. Most of these men are of similar age (early 20s) to him. He does agree though, that there are many other reasons why young men are joining this organisation too. Whether we agree with these views or not, he is certain that the most recent invasion of Iraq was entirely unjustifiable and today’s events are a direct legacy of this.

Like me though, he also believes that organisations such as I.S. will never be defeated militarily. I come from a part of the world where a 30-year conflict eventually ended after the realisation that dialogue and negotiation were the only way to bring about a (mainly) peaceful situation. The IRA could never defeat the British forces or the determination of the Unionist people, just as the British Forces could never defeat the IRA or the aspirations of Irish Nationalist people. That it took 30 years for all involved to find this out is regrettable but should give us an indication of how long it might be before there is an end to fundamentalist jihad activity and the assumption that Western society can, in some way, dictate to people in Middle Eastern countries how they conduct themselves.

It would seem that the lessons of history are lost on too many who believe that (para)military aggression/intervention and war of whatever nature, represent any hope of solution to the horrors that affect our world today.