Does this really sound like Sitting Bull?

Sitting BullAnother quote meme going around on the Internet claims to be from Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake), the famous Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux chief. A fascinating man in a difficult time. He was brave, intelligent and, from all accounts, wise. So when I read the quote below, I was torn. It’s a good comment, one that sounds like it should come from a wise man. But was that wise man really Sitting Bull?

Or perhaps these words are from someone else. There are many of these false quotations online, words that have been appropriated and mis-attributed by the many slow and lazy Web users who can’t be bothered to confirm the source. From Shakespeare to Einstein, I’ve found dozens of bad quotes that spread around the Net, becoming memes. But even if the words are wise, attributing them to the wrong person just contributes to the general dumbing down of everyone who reads them. So who actually said:

For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another’s life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.

This one is repeated by Native Americans and on native sites as well, so perhaps it has some validity, but none of them ascribe any source to it, either.

I have yet to find any source that shows when or where Sitting Bull actually said it. So until then, it remains classified as a bad meme and likely by someone else.

I suspect it’s more wishful thinking than accurate attribution. We want our cultural, folk and personal heroes to sound wise and inspiring, so we attribute to them something that we believe they would have, could have, or should have said, often without checking back to be sure they actually said it. And when we do it online, we create a meme that gets spread like those crazy emails about Microsoft promising us millions if we just forward it to everyone we know.

[pullquote]Somehow, in the New Age mythology, warriors have gone from armed and dangerous soldiers who killed their enemies, fought and defended their lands with their lives, to happy, wise folks helping old ladies cross the street.[/pullquote]Wikiquotes – a generally reliable source – has several quotations from Sitting Bull, properly attributed. This is not among them, and is not even among the many unsourced quotes it lists. The quote itself is not found anywhere on Wiki Quotes by any other author.

My printed sources offer no help. Neither the Oxford nor the Penguin dictionaries of quotations have anything from Sitting Bull. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (15th/125th anniversary edition) has a single statement Sitting Bull made that reads,

“What treaty have the Sioux made with the white man that we have broken? Not one. What treaty have the white man ever made with us that they have kept? Not one. When I was a boy the Sioux owned the world; the sun rose and set on their land; they sent ten thousand men to battle. Where are the warriors today? Who slew them? Where are our lands? Who owns them?… What law have I broken? Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am a Sioux; because I was born where my father lived; because I would die for my people and my country?”

The ellipses says that this is a partial quote and that some of the words have been left out. That, however, is the only printed sources I have for any Sitting Bull quotes. There are quotes attributed to Sitting Bull to be found in some of the older books (many published pre-1920) digitized in the Internet Archives. None of them I have found (yet) match the quotation at the top of this page. However, their accuracy is questionable since they mostly seem to be second- or third-hand. Here are two from one source I’ve culled:

“Do you not see that the whites on the reservation are afraid of you? Why do you pray to great Wakantanka to send the Saviour on earth and bring about a change when the remedy lies in your own hands? Be men, not children. You have a perfect right to dance upon your own reservation as much as you please, and you should exercise this right, even if you find it necessary to use your guns. Be brave, and the great and good Wakantanka will aid your arms. Be cowards, and he will be ashamed of you.”

God Almighty made me an Indian, and he did not make me an agency Indian, and I do not intend to be one.

Here’s a quote from another 19th century source:

This is not my doings nor these men’s. They are fighting because they were commanded to fight. We have killed their leader, let them go. I call on the Great Spirit to witness what I say. We did not want to fight. Long Hair sent us word that he was coming to fight us, and we had to defend ourselves and our wives and children. If this command had not been given we could have cut Reno’s command to pieces, as we did Custer’s. No warrior knew Custer in the fight. We did not know him, dead or alive. When the fight was over the chiefs gave orders- to look for the long-haired chief among the dead, but no chief with long hair could be found.

Whether these are actual quotes, or paraphrased by the 19th century writers to better suit their personal, biased views of the ‘primitive savages’ they wrote about, I have no way to ascertain. I expect the latter.

I personally suspect the source of the original quotation is another writer. Perhaps from one of Dan Millman’s “peaceful warrior” books or from one of Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan books. Both have written on warriors, and the end bit about “…the children, the future of humanity” seems more suited to the style of these writers than to the few actual quotations of Sitting Bull’s I’ve read.

A third option is the inspirational/spiritual writer Paul Coelho, possibly from the Manual of the Warrior of the Light (1997) or possibly his novel, The Valkyries. Coelho founded the Paulo Coelho Institute, which provides aid to children and elderly people with financial problems. Coelho wrote on his blog,

“To the warriors of light, there is no such thing as impossible love.
They don’t allow themselves to be intimidated by silence, or by rejection.
They know that – behind the icy mask people wear – there is a heart of fire.
That is why the warriors risk more than others.
They tirelessly seek love – even if this means hearing, many times over, the word ‘no’, returning home defeated, feeling rejected in body and soul.
Warriors don’t allow themselves to be discouraged. Without love, living has no meaning.”

Coelho, Castaneda and Millman all write in a similar New-Age style that is a lot more like the quotation in question than anything I’ve read that can be verified as being by Sitting Bull. Similar sentiments to this and the quotation in question are expressed in different wording on several martial arts/bushido, New Age and even gaming sites, as well. Somehow, in the New Age mythology, warriors have gone from armed and dangerous soldiers who killed their enemies, fought and defended their lands with their lives, to happy, wise folks helping old ladies cross the street. It’s not a sentiment I would ascribe to many military leaders. And Sitting Bull was certainly one of those.

That’s not mass, it’s area. Poor science means bad reporting.

It will come from space, be as massive as half a football field, have the explosive power to decimate hundreds of square miles of land and will hurtle perilously close to Earth.

Just some artist's impression of a burning rockI cringed when I read this paragraph in a QMI story published in the London Free Press recently, titled “Rock of Ages: Killer Asteroid Likely to Pass in 2013.” So many mistakes in so few words. But it might be a great start for a Roger Corman B-flick script.

Of course, “it” will come from space: “it” is an asteroid. Asteroids, says Wikipedia, are, “…a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun.” So it’s pretty obvious an asteroid can’t come from your basement, from the North Pole or from Ottawa.

“As massive as half a football field,” the writer declares. How massive is a football field? It isn’t massive at all. It has area, which is a measurement of its size in two dimensions, not mass. Mass, as Wikipedia says, has nothing to do with size: “In everyday usage, mass is often referred to as weight… In scientific use, however, the term weight refers to a different, yet related, property of matter. Weight is the gravitational force acting on a given body.”

Let’s get more technical, so we can be exact in our definition of mass: “…inertial mass, can be defined as a quantitative measure of an object’s resistance to the change of its speed.” An asteroid moving at an estimated 8.2 km/second certainly has inertial mass.

[pullquote]So many mistakes in so few words. But it might be a great start for a Roger Corman B-flick script.[/pullquote]Massive is an adjective that refers to mass, of course. So tell me, Terry Davidson, how you can measure the mass of a football field? What does a football field weigh? And is that an America, Canadian or Australian football field – because they are different sizes. The asteroid in question is estimated to be about 46m (150 feet) wide. But that doesn’t say anything about its mass which is also related to its density and speed.

Explosive power? Not really. Asteroids are not explosive, although impacts create explosions.

An explosion happens when the kinetic energy of the asteroid is converted to other forms of energy on impact. Until that moment, an asteroid does not have “explosive power,” just kinetic energy. Sometimes asteroids explode in the atmosphere as this one did over Indonesia, in 2009. But that’s a combination of rapid heat expansion, pressure and kinetic energy, not because the asteroid was “explosive.”

Decimate hundreds of square miles? Does the writer mean it will destroy every tenth square mile? The origin of decimate is Latin, and refers to a practice in the Roman Army of killing every tenth soldier as a form of punishment. Common usage means to “kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage or part of (something),” and “drastically reduce the strength or effectiveness of (something).” Decimate does not mean destroy everything.

It is called 2012-DA14, an asteroid that NASA scientists have been watching closely in anticipation of Feb. 15, 2013, when the mammoth piece of solid space rock will soar past the Earth a mere 24,000 kms from the planet’s surface. It will be passing even lower than the altitude at which many man-made satellites orbit.

Man-made. Bit of an anachronism, that term. I’m pretty sure there were also women working on some of those parts. I would have preferred “artificial” as a neutral adjective over the sexist “man-made.”

Mammoth? Compared to what? To a football field? It’s certainly bigger than the house Dorothy dropped on the Wicked Witch of the West, but compared to Ceres or Vesta? At 45-46m (150 feet), on the cosmic scale, it’s a pebble. It’s a fraction of the size of Asteroid 2005 YU55, which will whiz by Earth on November 8, about 319,000 kms away.

In fact 2012-DA14 is eerily similar to an asteroid that destroyed hundreds of square miles of forest in remote Siberia a little over a century ago.

In fact”? Since nothing has ever been found of the Tunguska meteorite, and certainly no sample has ever been taken of 2012-DA14, how can they be compared? Where are the “facts” about either? Many scientists believe the Tunguska event was caused by a chunk of comet, or even a micro black hole, not an asteroid. No one even knows the size of the rock that caused Tunguska, although there are educated guesses. We can only guess at any possible similarities; not state facts.

Eerily? What’s eerie about similarities between pieces of material? Eerily means, “…inspiring inexplicable fear, dread, or uneasiness; strange and frightening; suggestive of the supernatural; mysterious.” What is supernatural about a natural piece of space rock? Why would some physical similarity – size is the only property that can be estimated for both – instill dread or fear? Is it a haunted asteroid? Being “haunted” requires imaginary creatures called ghosts, not science.

The rock that exploded over Siberia, did so at an estimated 5–10 kilometres (3–6 mi) above the Earth’s surface, and likely on an impact trajectory. Asteroid 2012-DA14 will pass us by at 2,400 to 4,800 times that distance, and will not be aimed at the planet’s surface. These two are as “eerily similar” as the distance from my home to my town hall – about a mile – is similar to the distance from my home to Vancouver (about 3,500 miles).
[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7YTmS6U8WM”]
Killer Asteroid, the headline screams! Is it time to panic? Not in 2013. Although the headline suggests it’s “likely” to pass Earth in 2013, Asteroid 2012-DA14 has zero percent chance of hitting the planet. Zero. Zilch. It’s not likely to pass us: it WILL pass us by. There’s a huge difference between likely and won’t.

You actually get some real science at the tail end of the story, where the estimated speed, size and mass of the asteroid is indicated. That’s where it says risk to hit: 0. By which I assume that means zero percent or zero chances in whatever. Not likely: none. The real data isn’t from the story writer, however, but from Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Objects Program.

Asteroid 2012-DA14?s next closest pass, in 2040, has a 1 in 80,000 chance of striking Earth. That’s lower odds than the chance of getting rich on the Antiques Road Show (1:60,000)! Frankly, probability suggests you’re more likely to win the lottery than to be hit by any meteorite.

2040 is the year the asteroid is “likely to pass” not 2013. It’s very, very, very likely to pass in 2040, with about 12 chances in a million to hit us. Until then, I won’t worry about it. But I will continue to worry about bad science in reporting.

~~~~~~
Davidson’s story at least has some science buried in the hyperbole. There are many on the Internet that are a LOT worse, although few are written by reporters and are mostly the work of oddballs. “Deadly asteroid 2012 DA14 bounds towards Earth out of the blue” reads one headline, admittedly from a site that has all sorts of claptrap, from aliens to UFOs to demons and various conspiracy theories. I’m happy that the fringe lunatics have a place to play online, but the writer is incorrect in saying, “NASA confirms the 60-meter (197-feet) asteroid, spotted by Spanish stargazers in February, has a good chance of colliding with Earth in eleven months.” It has NO chance. None.

That squiggle cost taxpayers HOW much?

I read in the latest edition of the Collingwood Connection that: “Regional Tourist Organization 7 (is) now Bruce Grey Simcoe.” Were you even aware of Regional Tourist Organization 7 before that story? According to the Connection,

The organization announced its new brand and logo on Thursday at the Bear Estate in Collingwood. Bruce Grey Simcoe is one of 13 regional tourism organizations across the province.
Executive director Jeffery Schmidt said the group has been doing research and marketing over the past year in preparation for this announcement, as well as future initiatives.
He said creating the brand cost about $80,000 but the research over the past year has cost about $1.5 million.

Bruce Grey Simcoe and its squiggleMore than $1.5 million to change its name and produce a squiggle (“swoosh”) for a logo? It cost $80,000 to rename the organization from the bland, Borg-like “Regional Tourist Organization 7” (RTO 7 to its friends, and the name the website still bears but it links to brucegreysimcoe.com/) to “Bruce Grey Simcoe.” $80,000 for that. And they forgot the commas, too. Now it reads like some English writer’s name. Eric Arthur Blair. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Mary Ann Evans. Bruce Grey Simcoe. Maybe commas would have cost too much money, so they eschewed correct punctuation to save taxpayers money.

Man, I’m in the wrong industry. Five minutes of shallow cogitation could produce that name. Let’s see… who does he organization service? Hmm. The website says, “Tourism Region 7 consists of Bruce County, Grey County and Simcoe County (see map).” The counties of Bruce, Grey and Simcoe. Wait a second, I have an idea, let’s call it…

Come on. That cost $80,00? I would have thrown in the commas for free, for $80,000.

Actually it seems to have cost taxpayers $1,580,000, because it took $1.5 million in “research and marketing in preparation for this announcement, as well as future initiatives.” What research? Doesn’t say. No pollster called me to ask my opinion of the new name, or whether three independent, proper names should be strung together without the right punctuation.

RTO7 is an independent, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to work collaboratively with tourism partners and stakeholders to enrich Region 7’s diverse tourism experiences and to sustain and grow visitation, investment and tourism receipts.

What exactly are “tourism receipts?” If a visitor shops at Wal Mart, is that a tourism receipt? How are they grown (do they need water and fertilizer)?

RTOs are funded by the province – which means by you, the taxpayer. And maybe you’ll pay twice: your local municipality may be asked to shell out money to belong to RTO 7. “It is up to each Regional Tourism Organization to determine if membership fees will be implemented,” says the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. I await their request to council.

Benefit of these expenditures to you, the taxpayer? Aside from keeping graphic design, research and marketing firms busy, that is? Benefit of another layer of bureaucracy? Sorry, I haven’t found any, but I’ll keep searching.

The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport website says,

Ontario is paving the way for a stronger, more competitive tourism industry. The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport is supporting Ontario’s tourism partners as they develop Regional Tourism Organizations in the province’s 13 new tourism regions. Each Regional Tourism Organization is independent, industry-led and not-for-profit. Each will be responsible for building and supporting competitive and sustainable tourism regions. And each will help attract more visitors, generate more economic activity, and create more jobs across the province.

How these organizations will pave the way for anything, let alone develop or build tourism, is not stated. Nor does it state how the MTCS supports its “tourism partners.” But the FAQ says:

Regional Tourism Organizations are independent, industry-led, not-for-profit organizations responsible for working with tourism partners to enhance and grow each region’s tourism products and marketing activities. The regional leadership and coordination they provide will help build and support competitive and sustainable tourism regions. As a result, each region will be better equipped to attract more visitors, generate more economic activity and create more jobs across the province.

Again, more bluster-speak, long on touchy-feely but short on details. How will they lead? Or build? It does say that, “Regional Tourism Organizations may pursue regional research for planning, coordination and performance measurement.” Which I suppose justifies spending $1.5 million to research a squiggle and three words. Okay, to be fair: six words if you count the tag line, “Always in Season.” That’s how much a word? No wonder they couldn’t afford the commas!

The new BGS/RTO 7 logo, says the Connection,

…features the names of the three counties with a swoosh above in blue, green, yellow and orange. The tag line is, Always in Season, representing the fact the region is a four-season destination.

The EB article called it a, “..swoosh that can either represent the topography changes between Lake Huron and Lake Simcoe, or the outline of the escarpment — with colours representing the water, the fall season, and the spectacular sunsets seen over Georgian Bay.”

I’m not a graphic artist, so perhaps my eye fails to see the beauty of what looks to me like a squiggle from a paint brush that wasn’t fully cleaned. Maybe I lack the eye to recognize metaphor. But I do recognize another layer being piled onto the tourism layer cake.

The official media release notes about the branding exercise,

“The goal of the process was to determine a name and identity for the region that demonstrates its uniqueness and tells consumers where we are, both geographically and spiritually,” said Bill Sullivan, the organization’s Director of Marketing. “We wanted to convey the essence of our authentic communities, natural environments and breadth of product, and the fact that visitors can expect different experiences each and every time they visit.”

Spiritually? Come on… we’re not the Vatican or Jerusalem, catering to religious tourists. I don’t think there’s even a single face of Jesus on a grilled cheese sandwich to be found in any of the three counties.

I could already tell you where we are geographically by looking at my GPS. Authentic? Yep, it’s an authentic county named Simcoe. Glad we got that sorted out (unless they mean a county authentically named Simcoe, in which case I get all rhetorical). Look, there’s an authentic county named Grey. And there’s an authentic squiggle… I mean, swoosh.

[pullquote]I’m not a graphic artist, so perhaps my eye fails to see the beauty of what looks to me like a squiggle from a paint brush that wasn’t fully cleaned. Maybe I lack the eye to recognize metaphor.[/pullquote]According to the Enterprise Bulletin, the RTO 7 held, “…town hall information sessions in Owen Sound, Collingwood and Barrie this week where the new consumer brand will be unveiled. Members of the public are invited to see how the brand will be rolled out in the coming months.”

Town hall sessions at what expense and why? To promote something to local consumers who ALREADY live in the area the RTO is supposed to be promoting? Sessions to inform people of what? A squiggle and a tag line? I assume tourism and hospitality businesses already know about these RTOs. Do you think the local consumer really cares, or even if he/she has ever heard of the organization? Who gets paid for these events, who claims mileage and expenses for these sessions?

Makes me wonder how much more this roll-out will cost taxpayers. The EB coverage gave us some idea that it might prove expensive:

RTO7 will be undertaking a ‘brand’ launch beginning in mid-March, complete with an in-region promotion contest encouraging local residents to submit photos and stories and “showcase their favourite places and experiences, and what makes (the region) such a great place to live and play,” said Schmidt.

Neither newspaper had anything in the way of substance about what the RTO will actually do, just that it was self-promoting its $1.58 million branding. And what happens with existing tourism associations like the GTTA?

The EB article continues:

“What we are unveiling at the session is a brand name, like a destination name for the area, as well as a logo and talking about how that will be introduced or rolled out through a promotion or marketing campaign,” said Jeff Schmidt, executive director of RTO 7, based in Thornbury.

“It’s like a consumer brand where people will be able to say, ‘Oh yeah, I know where that is.'”

Yeah. I can see people in Toronto talking over breakfast about what a good time they had on their weekend getaway to “Brucegreysimcoe.” Imagine all 13 RTOs marketing to the same Toronto consumers, too. After all, who else will they target?

For $1.58 million, I could send every consumer in the province a road map of Ontario with the three counties marked with circles, and probably save taxpayers $1 million. Imagine if all 13 of these groups follow RTO 7 and spend that much on tag lines and squiggles? That would cost taxpayers more than $20 million. And for what? Words and squiggles. Sorry: swooshes. That would come from the $65 million of tax dollars the province has budgeted as handouts support for RTOs. Imagine what local hospitals could do with that, instead. Probably waste it on MRI scanners or some other piece of medical hardware.

Hey, Don Drummond, I think you missed a big sinkhole in spending right here. The MTCS FAQ says,RTOS must “…sign a transfer payment agreement that holds them accountable to the Province for expenditure of taxpayer dollars and for growing tourism in the region.” I wonder if spending $1.58 million for “branding” and squiggles is considered “accountable.”

English suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous punctuation

Grammar TalesThere’s a chip wagon in town that offers “fresh cut fries.” When I see that sign, I always wonder what “cut fries” are, and how they compare with uncut fries. Does this chipster offer stale cut fries as well as fresh ones?

The former library is becoming an old building. The sign in front tells us a “senior facility” is coming soon. Sad to see a relatively new building forced to age.

A sign in a local department store advises me “video’s” are on sale. A grocery store offers “mango’s” and “avocado’s”. These common ‘apostrophe catastrophes‘ can be seen daily on signs and in official documents pretty much everywhere English is misspoken.

I was warned to “drive safe” when I left a store on a blustery winter’s day. I responded that the safe didn’t have an engine, so I could not possible drive it. When told to “dress warm” I asked “dress a warm what?”

A local restaurant calls itself the Olde’ Towne Terrace. Aside from the inappropriate apostrophe dangling at the end of the word, olde was a correct spelling in earlier forms of English, but not today. As this sites notes, it’s just an affectation today: “Other ways of pretending to be ancient are the addition of unnecessary ‘e’ at the end of words, ‘olde’, ‘shoppe’, again a holdover from Middle English where the ‘e’ was pronounced… fake English spelling affects all parts of the English-speaking world.”

ToonpoolI suppose I’m urinating against the wind here. There are hundreds of sites and blogs dedicated to documenting and correcting the tsunami of improper spelling, punctuation and grammar all around us. My protest is a mere ripple in comparison. Some writers offer constructive correction (like Melissa Donovan in Writing Forward), but people don’t check before they make signs. It strikes me the job of creating those messages is always assigned to the least literate employee.

There’s the “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks, a Flickr collection of signs with bad grammar and spelling (and not just at Tea Party rallies, either!) and another set here, here, and here.

Canada’s favourite coffee shop annoys me daily with its incorrect punctuation: Tim Hortons (sic). According to Wikipedia, this error was actually a conscious decision: “The chain’s first store opened in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario, under the name “Tim Horton Donuts”; the name was later abbreviated to “Tim Horton’s” and then changed to “Tim Hortons” without the possessive apostrophe. The business was founded by Tim Horton, who played in the National Hockey League from 1949 until his death in a car accident in 1974.”

Why, you ask, would any company deliberately dumb-down its signs and open itself to ridicule? To appease the anglophobes in Quebec: “Some older locations retain signage with the company’s name including a possessive apostrophe, despite the fact that the official styling of the company’s name has been Tim Hortons, without an apostrophe, for at least a decade. The company had removed the apostrophe after signs using the apostrophe were considered to be breaking the language sign laws of the Province of Quebec in 1993. The removal of the apostrophe allowed the company to have one common sign image across Canada.” I can only feel for the franchise owners who stubbornly refuse to give in to corporate silliness. The company will offend millions of English language speakers by making an egregious error in punctuation, but not anyone in Quebec. Nice message to send the rest of us, eh? Seems the missing apostrophe has even spawned boycotts of the place and petitions to have it restored.

Fortunately, Collingwood Council has not gone the way of Birmingham, England, and declared apostrophes outdated on its signs. I treat this declaration with the same reverence I treat my dog barking at a squirrel that eludes it: pointless and annoying. Birmingham has become the “city where apostrophes arent welcome” and ridiculed for the decision in the media.

If you don’t think punctuation matters, read this story about a comma that cost Rogers $2.13 million!

Does all this matter any more? Is the number of people who care about language usage, about punctuation, grammar and spelling dwindling, fighting a losing battle against tweets and text messages? I fervently hope not. Even some Chinese cities have undertaken campaigns to correct English on their signs. If they care that much about English, surely we, its native speakers, should do so, too.

Maybe Canada needs a National Punctuation Day (Sept. 24) or a National Grammar Day (March 4) like the US has. Would it make any difference? Aside, that is, from giving geeks like me something else to whinge about?

You really think they’re, like, linguistic pioneers? OMG!

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fGZtrBeDcQ&feature=fvst”]
Are the Kardashians, Valley Girls or the Jersey Shores’ starlets pioneers of language? Or just inept, barely literate, somewhat dim young women of dubious talent? I tend to believe the latter. Writer Douglas Quequa suggested the former in the New York Times this week. He opens with this line:

“Whether it be uptalk (pronouncing statements as if they were questions? Like this?), creating slang words like “bitchin’ ” and “ridic,” or the incessant use of “like” as a conversation filler, vocal trends associated with young women are often seen as markers of immaturity or even stupidity.”

Well, of course, yes. If you speak like an idiot, people naturally assume you are one. Language conveys the speaker’s intelligence, education, upbringing, experience and communications skills. Anyone who sticks “like” into every sentence does not come across as a particularly well-educated or even bright communicator. Anyone who thinks the Kardashians are brilliant orators is, like, oh-my-god, a moron.

It doesn’t have to be women: men do it too albeit usually with different words and cadence (the affected pseudo-“homie” talk of young men is particularly painful to listen to), but the cultural stereotype of the mindless, barely literate babble has been rather unfortunately pinned mostly on young women. Sadly, a few, it seems, deserve the label:
[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww”]

But linguists — many of whom once promoted theories consistent with that attitude — now say such thinking is outmoded. Girls and women in their teens and 20s deserve credit for pioneering vocal trends and popular slang, they say, adding that young women use these embellishments in much more sophisticated ways than people tend to realize.

“A lot of these really flamboyant things you hear are cute, and girls are supposed to be cute,” said Penny Eckert, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University. “But they’re not just using them because they’re girls. They’re using them to achieve some kind of interactional and stylistic end.”

I agree that these verbalizations fulfill a stylistic function, but interactional? It’s difficult to interact properly with someone who peppers “like” throughout a sentence. When someone says “I’m, like, happy,” should I ask what being similar to happy means to them?

If you mean “um”, say “um,” and not “like.” Basically both are an interruption of thought, but “like” has become an accepted stylistic form among some groups, spread like a virus, without deliberate effort. The abuse of the word “like” in speech is a bad gene on the language chromosome we need to expunge. Quequa writes,

The same can be said for the word “like,” when used in a grammatically superfluous way or to add cadence to a sentence. (Because, like, people tend to talk this way when impersonating, like, teenage girls?) …while young people tended to use “like” more often than older people, men used it more frequently than women… The use of “like” in a sentence, “apparently without meaning or syntactic function, but possibly as emphasis,” has made its way into the Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition — this newspaper’s reference Bible — where the example given is: “It’s, like, hot.” Anyone who has seen a television show featuring the Kardashian sisters will be more than familiar with this usage.

Making it into any dictionary does not convey credibility or even acceptability. Dictionaries document use, but don’t make any effort to correct usage. They are tools for mapping the language, not arbiters of its use. Words also disappear from dictionaries, but not because they’re worthless. They may be expunged simply for lack of space. How many dictionaries still carry the word “mumpsimus”?

As an editorial note, Quequa doesn’t qualify his statement as to how (or even if) his quoted sources, “once promoted theories consistent with that attitude.” We never get any inkling of what those those earlier theories say. Or even if they are theories (they could be mere hypotheses…)

I suppose if I really wanted to be hip (wait, does that colloquialism show my age?) I’d write Valley “Gurlz” because the rage among the marketing and advertising illiterates is to replace a proper ‘s’ with a ‘z’ and pretend they’re actually the same sound (they’re not, but it’s like arguing cosmology with goldfish…). These are the same dimwits who brought us “lite” instead of light and “E-Z” instead of easy. Pay no attention to them and they will probably slink back into their caves.

Girls and women in their teens and 20s deserve credit for pioneering vocal trends and popular slang, they say, adding that young women use these embellishments in much more sophisticated ways than people tend to realize.

Oh, puh-leez. That’s codswallop. That’s akin to saying my dog is pioneering veterinary treatments because she got better after the medicine. The spread of linguistic forms is often little more than mimicry based on popular culture and pressure from peer usage. It’s just like fashion and popular culture. Just look at Internet memes and viral videos. Pioneering requires someone or some group to actually do the pioneering, not simply repeat what others do. I am not a pioneer of the telephone simply because I use one.

In the Sixties we talked about “rip offs” and said “cool, man”; in the Fifties it was “Daddy-oh” and “hipster.” Were we language pioneers or just parrots? These young women are products of their age and pop cultures, influenced by TV, the Net and movies to absorb these aspects.

Every generation has its own language, its own slang. But slang and sociolects age like political humour, losing their relevance within a few years and get dropped. Who today uses terms that were once in daily speeeh in the 1920s? Who says twenty-three skidoo or  see you later alligator?

What Quequa overlooks is that the patois of Valleyspeak and its ilk are not evolving languages as much as they are variant sociolects that have become a cross-pollinating meme. A sociolect, or social dialect, is, according to Wikipedia:

…a variety of language (a dialect) associated with a social group such as a socioeconomic class, an ethnic group, an age group, etc… interaction in written and other media can also lead to sociolects, and many can be found in online communities.

There’s nothing wrong with slang or sociolects; they’ve been around since language was invented. But there’s a world of difference between pioneering language forms and merely using them. And certainly a difference between pioneering and parroting.

Language is a tool. It can be used with finesse, like a scalpel, or bluntly and coarsely, like a chainsaw. Girl slang is certainly closer to the latter than the former as a mode of communication. Shakespeare was a pioneer of language, introducing many neologisms and developing new forms of expression. I simply cannot countenance putting the Kardashians on the same level as Shakespeare.
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On translating Chaucer and the joys of Middle English

Geoffrey ChaucerIn my last two visits to the nearby Chapters, I picked up from the bargain books section two recent, hardcover, versions of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. One is a new verse translation by Burton Raffel published in 2008, the other a prose translation by Peter Ackroyd, from 2009.

These join the dozen or so other versions of Chaucer’s works I already have on my bookshelves: the Riverside Chaucer (third edition), several venerable Penguin editions (both original and translations), the New Cambridge edition, the Portable Chaucer, Hopper’s interlinear translation, and a few others. What always surprises me is how widely these translations range in wording, rhythm and style.

Chaucer, of course, wrote in Middle English, a form of English that’s not quite like our speech today, but close enough that anyone can stumble through most of it without needing a glossary. I have only skimmed some works on learning Middle English, not studied it beyond casual reading. For me, trying to read and understand Chaucer in his original tongue is part of the pleasure of it. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I figure out a verse that looked cryptic at first but clarity has broken upon me, or when the words coalesce into a tale.

There are four things to keep in mind when reading Chaucer. First is to try to read it aloud. The sound and rhythm of the spoken word often helps makes the meaning evident. Chaucer wrote to be heard, not just read. You can hear some Chaucerian poetry online to get a sense of how it sounded – a lot more Germanic than it does today. But just reading him aloud helps you appreciate his work.

Second is the pronunciation. Many words and letters were pronounced somewhat differently in Chaucer’s day, much more like Romance languages: most letters are pronounced and few are silent. For example, what we would see as a silent ‘e’ at the end of a Chaucerian word, such as ‘grete’ and likely pronounce as “greet” today would have been sounded as ‘eh’ in Chaucer’s day” ‘grey-teh’. You can get basic pronunciation guides online, too. It’s not difficult.

Third is the spelling. Chaucer didn’t use spell-check (neither, it seems, do most Facebook posters, but I digress). He was not always consistent in his spelling. Many common words in his day were also spelled differently than today. These words can look odd, but when you say them aloud, you realize they’re familiar words with different spellings. For example, these lines from the Knight’s Tale (Knightes Tale, lines 2160-64):

“His coat-armure was of clooth of Tars,
Couched with perles whyte and rounde and grete.
His sadel was of brend gold newe y-bete,
A mantelet upon his shuldre hanginge
Bret-ful of rubies rede, as fyr sparklinge.”

You should understand most of that pretty easily. Shuldre today is shoulder, sadle is saddle, perles are pearls, clooth is cloth, and so on. But what is y-bete, or brend, or armure? That’s where translations or glossaries help.
In prose translation, this can be rendered:

His tunic, blazoned with his arms, was of cloth of Tartary, laid with pearls, white, round, and great. His saddle was of burnished gold, freshly forged. A short mantle hung upon his shoulders, stiff with red rubies sparkling as fire.

And here it is in poetry (from an online interlinear site):

His tunic with his coat of arms was of cloth of Tarsia (in Turkestan)
Adorned with pearls white and round and big;
His saddle was newly adorned with pure gold;
A short cloak hanging upon his shoulder,
Brimful of rubies red as sparkling fire;

Raffel, I see, translates Tars as “Persian”:

…His coat was Persian silk,
Embroidered with pearls, great, and white as milk.
His saddle was hammered out of bright new gold,
And the mantle hanging high across his shoulders
Was heavy with fire-red rubies, sparkling in sunlight.

Fourth reminder is that words come and go in English, and can even change meaning from one period to the next. In Chaucer’s day, for example, the word silly meant “happy, blissful, blessed or fortunate.” By the early-16th century, it meant “deserving pity or sympathy.” It took on its current meaning of “empty-headed” or “lacking good sense” by the early 17th century. (See Steinmetz: Semantic Antics). When you read Chaucer, you will find words no longer in use, as well as words that have shifted meaning since his day. That’s one reason having a modern translation is handy. When you come to an incomprehensible line, you can see how it gets translated into today’s speech.

The structure of Middle English – the grammar – is similar enough to modern English that it’s not hard to figure out. Adjectives tend to follow nouns rather than precede them (“perles whyte” rather than “white pearls”). But if you have no problem with the syntax of Shakespeare or the King James Bible, Chaucer won’t pose significant problems,

Ah, but you also need to know where you’re reading in order to find the translated lines. In Hopper’s edition, those lines above are numbered 1303-06. In Raffel’s new translation, we find them at 1290-94. But the Riverside, New Cambridge and Penguin (original spelling) versions all use the numbering noted above.

It can be tricky finding the reference. Many translations are unnumbered, making it difficult to locate a particular line. Ackroyd’s prose version has no references, either (the lines above appear about a third of the way down on page 57):

His coat of arms was woven of rare silk and embroidered with white pearls; his saddle was of newly beaten gold, and the mantle around his shoulders was studded with glowing rubies.

Morrison’s translation in the Portable Chaucer (revised edn), is:

Over his gear a Tartar coat; each fold
With large pearls was embroidered, round and white.
His saddle was of forged gold, beaten bright.
A little mantel from his shoulders spread
Brimful of fiery rubies, glittering red.

Coghill’s translation in the Penguin Classics edition reads,

His surcoat was in cloth of Tartary,
Studded with great white pearls; beneath its fold
A saddle of new-beaten, burnished gold.
He had a mantle hanging from his shoulders,
Which, crammed with rubies,dazzled all beholders.

Here a re a few other translations of those four lines from the Web. First this one:

His coat-of-arms was cloth of the Tartars,
Begemmed with pearls, all white and round and great.
Of beaten gold his saddle, burnished late;
A mantle from his shoulders hung, the thing
Close-set with rubies red, like fire blazing.

Which I find a bit stilted (begemmed, rubies red, etc.). Then this one:

His coat of arms of cloth from Turkestan,
Adorned with large round pearls of polished white;
His pure gold saddle was a wondrous sight;
A short cloak on his shoulders all admire,
Brimful of rubies red as sparkling fire;

And this prose version:

His tunic, blazoned with his arms, was of cloth of Tartary, laid with pearls, white, round, and great. His saddle was of burnished gold, freshly forged. A short mantle hung upon his shoulders, stiff with red rubies sparkling as fire.

And this poetic version:

His surcoat was of cloth from Tartary,
With all the large white pearls that it could hold.
His saddle, newly forged, was burnished gold.
A mantle from his shoulders hung, attire
Brimful of rubies sparkling red as fire.

And finally this verse translation:

His surcoat was of cloth of Tartary,
Adorned with pearls, white, round and bold.
His saddle of pure freshly-beaten gold,
A short mantle on his shoulder hanging,
Dense with rubies red, like fire sparkling.

You can see how different each version is, yet how similar. The original is not really very difficult to understand – at least to my eyes – but every translator finds in it a different sense or colour. Every version above sounds particularly different from the original when read aloud, both in wording and in poetic rhythm.

Are any of them better? Is there a definitive modern translation? I have not the academic background to judge. I enjoy reading Chaucer in almost all forms, including my stumbling and fitful attempts to master the original. But these two latest versions of the Canterbury Tales are among the most enjoyable I have read in a while, and I would recommend them to anyone. You merely have to decide whether you want to read Chaucer as epic poetry (Raffel) or stories constructed like modern fiction (Ackroyd). I like both, and of course the bargain-book price didn’t hurt.

All of this is to explain why, despite several translations on my bookshelves already, I continue to purchase – and delight in reading – new translations of Chaucer.