Tag Archives: Language

Week in Japan, introduction

“Understand, you say? Understanding is in principle based solely on wishful thinking.” – From Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

I am planning to write a bit about spending a week in Japan, recently.* First, though, I feel like I ought to preface any and everything I write with a disclaimer along the lines of the above quote.

No general statement about cross-cultural comprehension, let alone “inscrutable orientals” is intended, I want to add. I simply feel it’s important that any remarks I make are accompanied by a reminder that, in this instance, I literally did not understand most of the messages around me.

Street with Japanese signs

Did not understand.

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New word RFP (wuah wa wah)

I’ve decided we could use a new term. Inspired by a couple of recent, typically empty corporate “responses” to being busted for scummy behavior, I feel like we need a word for this particular variety of noise.

It’s tricky even to describe this, precisely. Time Warner’s comments here are a prime example, as are nearly any “response” from any large telco to anything. Apple’s response to default snooping through Spotlight in OS X Yosemite, in context of their recent crowing about respecting customers’ privacy, captures something of this phenomenon. It isn’t exclusively corporate behavior, either; you hear plenty of this in politics.

It isn’t “derp,” though. Nor is it “FUD.” In both cases there is probably considerable overlap, but I’m trying to define something more basic. It’s little more than noise, but “noise” alone does not capture the element of insult, almost contempt, that sets this apart. I recall Peter King once speculating that Bill Belichick favored the phrase “it is what it is” so that he could move his lips without actually communicating with media; I think now that King was probably approaching a similar concept. Belichick (in King’s portrayal) feels some obligation to go through the motions of “responding” to questions, but no real obligation to account for himself or engage with questioners, whom he probably considers impertinent nobodies who should buzz off. So he makes noises that humor them, in form, while insulting them in (the noises’ absence of) substance. That comes very close.

I think the best explanation of all, though, might be borrowed from Judge Judy’s classic admonition: “don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” The “telling you it’s raining” part is exactly what I would like a word for: comments by one who has caused injury, following confrontation about this fact, that are so absolute in their refusal to engage in any legitimate conversation of the issue that the insult rivals the original injury. There’s really less engagement than even a dismissal; it’s mostly noise and almost non sequitur.

Can we come up with a word for this?

My thoughts gravitate toward the iconic grown-ups sound from the Peanuts animated cartoons. I haven’t been able to find a sound clip, but I’m guessing most people know what I mean. That worst-PA-system-of-all-time wa-wuah wa wuah waugh wa. Some brief shorthand for this would be a good term for what I’ve been describing. I thought of “wuah” because so many other renderings seem to have familiar, unrelated usages attached to them. This doesn’t seem to have a lot, though it has some, and Duck Duck Go suggests that “wa wa wa” is the most popular conclusion of typing “Peanuts cartoon wa.”

So, I don’t know for sure. I welcome suggestions. I’m not too particular about the details, I would just really really like some kind of term for this to take hold. I realize that naming it probably won’t change the world, but being able to call this out quickly would at least feel like a small way to push back.

Don’t cut back on “salt intake,” eliminate it

A few years ago, I wrote a pair of responses following a wave of online alarms about “salt intake.” In the first, my criticism was strictly linguistic. “Salt intake” is an awful, abominable phrase, and I had simply had enough of seeing it. Happily, the interweb’s obsession with this allegedly dire peril seems to have dropped away, but recently Sarah Kliff over at Vox provided it a bump. Ms. Kliff’s coverage of health care reform has been absolutely brilliant, these past years, and her look at the terrible menace of salt also achieves some admirable progress. I applaud her story’s headline, “we’re eating too much salt,” at least linguistically. You have to go four paragraphs in before any reference to “salt intake.”

That said, Kliff still resorts to this syntactical disgrace several times; once, in the alt-form of “sodium intake,” even in a subheading. Thus I shall continue my long-term archiving project by re-publishing the following, originally written in February 2010:

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