Not Saussure

March 22, 2007

McDonalds objects to the English language

Filed under: hubris, Linguistics — notsaussure @ 12:57 am

Via Boing Boing, the English-language edition of Der Spiegel reports that McDonalds is to launch a campaign to persuade the OED to remove its definition of McJob,

An unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector.


“Dictionaries are supposed to be paragons of accuracy. And it this case, they got it completely wrong,” Walt Riker, a Mickey D’s McSpokesman complained to the Associated Press. “It’s a complete disservice and incredibly demeaning to a terrific work force and a company that’s been a jobs and opportunity machine for 50 years.”

The company says it will kick off its campaign in May in an attempt to change the “out-of-date” definition, as McDonald’s spokeswoman Amanda Pierce called the McJob entry. (more…)


March 18, 2007

But is Steven Colbert white?

Filed under: Linguistics, usa — notsaussure @ 4:52 pm

Via Tim Worstall and FreeBorn John, Obama isn’t black. He’s African-African American (or perhaps African2 American?). Anyway, Debra Dickerson explains, with remarkable good humour.

No reason we should be confused, I suppose. After all, when Americans talk about ‘football’ or ‘beer’ they don’t mean the same thing by the term as does anyone else, and I once caused some hilarity by explaining to some American students that I needed to borrow a rubber to correct a mistake…

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November 8, 2006

Why is all this tamasha about Hinglish?

Filed under: Linguistics — notsaussure @ 6:12 pm

Only two years behind the Christian Science Monitor, the BBC has discovered Hinglish, asking

Are you a “badmash”? And if you had to get somewhere in a hurry, would you make an “airdash”? Maybe you should be at your desk working, instead you’re reading this as a “timepass”.


A dictionary of the hybrid language has been gathered by Baljinder Mahal, a Derby-based teacher and published this week as The Queen’s Hinglish.

I certainly intend to get a copy of the book; I recall about 30 years ago my first wife, a Ugandan Asian, and her brothers having fun with Hinglish; for reasons I don’t quite understand, Hindi words drop very well into English sentences (and vice versa), usually with great comic effect. I seem to recall that it was particularly popular in the gossip columns of Bombay filmi mags, like Stardust; these, I seem to recall, were written in deliberately absurd combination of the two languages — though I have to say that when we once visited one of her uncles in what I refuse to call anything other than Bombay (when I’m writing in English, anyway), a Guju paesa-wallah (Stardust for Gujerati money man in the Bollywood — now Mollywood? — movie business), everyone in the industry there seemed to talk that way.

As the BBC notes, this, of course, is nothing new; English and Hindi have been getting inextricably intertwined for the last few hundred years, as commemorated by Hobson Jobson, a Victorian glossary of Anglo-Indian words, available online, and in which I’ve just (while checking the URL) made the most delightful discovery.

In the introduction, we read

Of words that seem to have been admitted to full franchise, we may give examples in curry, toddy, veranda, cheroot, loot, nabob, teapoy, sepoy, cowry; and of others familiar enough to the English ear, though hardly yet received into citizenship, compound, batta, pucka, chowry, baboo, mahout, aya, nautch, first-chop, competition-wallah, griffin, &c.

Griffin rather surprised me, since I was certain that the heraldic beast wasn’t borrowed from India. So I looked it up in Hobson Jobson and discover, pleasingly appropriately, to my mind, given the name of the leader of the BNP,

GRIFFIN, GRIFF, s.; GRIFFISH, adj. One newly arrived in India, and unaccustomed to Indian ways and peculiarities; a Johnny Newcome.

One question, though; the Amazon blurb for The Queen’s Hinglish begins,

“The Queen’s Hinglish” is a fun and fascinating look at Hinglish: an important story in language change in the 21st century. Whether you’re gora, desi, tik, or angrez, let “Collins” be your guide to the biggest, boldest, fastest-changing language on earth.

I know what they all mean, but 20 years ago, at least, my understanding was that ‘gora’ is not a particularly polite term; a bit like calling someone a ‘wog’ or whatever. Certainly his parents were furious with my wife’s teenage brother when he — jokingly — called me a gora, and she wasn’t too amused, either. Presumably it’s lost its offensive connotations, though; can anyone enlighten me?

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September 7, 2006

A useful word

Filed under: Blogroll, Linguistics — notsaussure @ 5:04 pm

Tim Worstall rightly notes: ‘Pobsy, perfectly good word. More people ought to use it.’

True, it does not appear in this form in the OED, but that’s clearly an oversight. They do have ‘pobs, n. pl.‘ which is apparently ‘ A dialect and nursery name for porridge, pap, bread and milk.’ Their references are:

1828 Craven Gloss. (ed. 2), Pobs, Poddish, Porridge.

1848 MRS. GASKELL Mary Barton ix, The child..were awake, and crying for its pobbies.
HALL CAINE Manxman VI. iv, He was ladling the pobs into the child’s mouth.

Not being a parent, it’s not a term I frequently use, but I take it to mean either ‘something like porridge’ or ‘what he and the child looked like after the child had spat out its pobs’.

I hope this clarifies matters.

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