Linguistic Rectification, Slavic Pronunciation, and the Tori Spelling Connection

Wrocław is the largest city in Western Poland. But how do you pronounce it?


In this World in Words podcast, Cartoon Queen Carol Hills and I discuss five language-related stories from blogs and news sites:

1. Linguistically rectifying Chinese food, one menu at a time. In its latest “linguistic rectification campaign,” Beijing is urging Chinese restaurants to take more care in translating menu items into English. That way, items like The car hit cheese bacon mushroom face may be less likely to show up on menus. More’s the pity.  However, with more Chinese immigrants and tourists coming to the US, poorly constructed Chinese may be coming to a subway station or hotel near you.

2. You say diamond; I say rhombus. Will an overhaul in math terminology in the US improve the performance of math students?

3. How do you pronounce Wrocław, Kraków, or Kiev? (I’ve included the diacritics for Wroclaw and Krakow as they appear in Polish, just to up the mystery ante.) The BBC Pronunciation Unit comes to the rescue with suggested pronunciations for many Euro 2012 soccer tournament’s host cities. We also discuss the simmering debate over Ukraine’s two languages: Ukrainian and Russian. A previous report on this issue is here.

4. The idiosyncratic glory of “unnecessary” quotation marks. Take your pick: Happy “Father” Day. The First Baptist Church: We “Love” All People! Real Estate “Lady.” Many more “here.” And thank you,  Bethany Keeley.

5. Do biodiversity and linguistic diversity go hand in hand? A recent study suggests they may do. There are some seemingly obvious reasons why this may be the case, but the study is cautious not to jump to conclusions.

We also talk about Tori Spelling. With a name like that it was only a matter of time. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out more. Suffice to say for now that I was particularly taken by this article.

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6 responses to “Linguistic Rectification, Slavic Pronunciation, and the Tori Spelling Connection

  1. orangeroomstudios

    Great post and podcast!

    What is the biodiversity/linguistic diversity study you and Carol Hills discuss in the podcast? This is a topic I have written about on my blog, but I’m also looking for a better way to “tell the story” of endangered languages…

  2. btw , the English word RAMEN is spelled incorrectly. You can pronounce is as RAMEN if u wish, or as LAMEN, depending on your mother tongque and first language, but the actual word is from CHINESE, not Japanese, who borrowed it from Chinese and the actual word is la-mien, NOODLES, and the editor in japan in the 1950s who spelled it as RAMEN was wrong, since in japanese the R and L sounds are almost the same, so they say ROBBER for lover, and that is okay, fine, but we do not spell LOVER as ROBBER do we? no. google my work on LAMEN is the correct way to spell RAMEN, i realize this is not easy to rectifiy but IT MUST BE DONE someday…RAMEN is the wrong way to spell LAMEN……ask any Japanese native

  3. Who’s afraid of a silly old ‘scare quote’?

    by Danny Bloom
    Tufts 1971, – Danny Bloom is a freelance writer based in Taiwan, where the mysteries of the English language still confound him.

    I’m not much a style guy and newspaper style guides don’t interest me all that much, but as the coiner of “crash blossoms” and a few other newspaper terms over the past few years — ”snailpapers” for print editions arrive 12 hours late, for example — I have recently taken a keen interest in the term “scare quotes.”

    You know what a “scare quote” is, although you might call it something else. Sotaro Shibahara in Toronto tells me he calls them “rabbit ear quotes” and notes: “I didn’t know they were called ‘scare quotes’. I usually call them ‘rabbit-ear’ quotes, because of the twin forefinger and middle finger V-sign that is crooked to signify ‘air quotation marks.’ When I am writing, I write ‘(quote-unquote)’ — with parentheses — if I am trying to distance myself from what I’m quoting. Or I write ‘so-called’ before the quote if it’s a quote, phrase or terminology that I don’t necessarily agree with. My sister and my father call fair-weather friends ‘rabbit-eared friends’.
    My sister and my dad call fair-weather friends ‘rabbit-eared friends’.”

    I had never really paid attention to this “scare quotes” term until I began seeing it everywhere in print — and online — over the past few years. So as a natural-born word coiner, I began to wonder who coined the term, when and where, under what circumstances, and not only what does it mean, but is the word “scare” part of the phrase?

    Therefore I turned to some style guides. The 15th edition of the Chicago Style Manual One notes the term exists but cautions against its overuse in section 7.58: “Quotation marks are often used to alert readers that a term is used in a nonstandard, ironic, or other special sense …and imply ‘This is not my term’ or ‘This is not how the term is usually (italics) applied.’ Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and irritate readers if overused.”

    Maybe one could put it another way: when overused, scare quotes lose their original ”raison d’etre” and scare the heck out of people, especially if readers have no idea what the term means.

    Which brings me to my “real” question here: why are they called “scare” quotes? As for ”who” coined the now-ubiquitous term and when, I believe the answer is lost in the “mists” of time. Or should be that “in the midst of time”?

    When I asked a Stanford University language maven about this, he told me he found two references online that explain a bit of the puzzle, noting that one is from 1956 and the other from 1960.

    “The ‘scare-quotes’ are mine; Aristotle is not overtly discussing the expression ‘whichever happens’,” wrote an the 1956 academic, while the 1960 reference quoted P.T. Geach in M. Brand’s “The Nature of Human Action” as writing “Someone might use ‘happy’, in scare-quotes so to say, to mean ‘what most people count happy, that is rich’.”

    What I am hearing from the linguistic grapevine is that the term mostly likely was created by a group of academics, probably philosophers, who wanted a way to use quoted words in such a way as to distance themselves from what they themselves were saying in their philosophical treatises. I wouldn’t know; I’m not a philosopher.

    I’m a word sleuth. I’m looking for the “first coiner” of the ”scare quotes’ term. Was it someone in Britain? Something in my Yankee brain tells me this is a Britishism. When did the term first surface on the printed page? Some say the 1970s, others tell me the 1990s. All I know is that if you Google the term today you will find “scare quotes” all over the place, from newspaper articles to blog posts. There’s even a website devoted to “scare quotes” now, that’s how often they occur, and I am sure that if the ”late” word maven William Safire was still alive, he ”of all people” would know the answers to all my questions above.

    Colin Fine in Britain, another international member of the ”Scare Quotes First Coiner Search Team, offers me this consolation: “It’s very rare to be able to pinpoint the individual who first used a word in a particular meaning, and equally rare to be able to do more than speculate about exactly what mental picture or association they had when they made that innovation. Good luck trying to find the man or woman who coined the term.”

    I hate to go to Wikipedia but here goes: “Scare quotes are quotation marks placed around a word or phrase to imply that it may not signify its apparent meaning or that it is not necessarily the way the quoting person would express its concept.”

    Okay, that’s cool. But why are they scary? Wouldn’t it be better, perhaps, to call them “distance quotes” in order to put some distance between the quoted words and the person writing the book review or

    political analysis?

    I’ve also seen such “devices” referred to as sneer quotes, horror quotes and even queer quotes.

    All I know ”for sure” is this: Use of the term ”scare quotes” appears to have arisen at some point during the first half of the 20th century among philosophers in academic settings, and as for who first coined the term, and when, we will never know.

    Some writers and oped commentators like to use the term to imply that he or she is “scared” to be associated with the typical meaning of the quoted term or phrase.

    A practicing scare quotes blogger tells me by email: “By bracketing the item in question with ‘scare quotes’, one sounds a warning that the writer does not take responsibility for the correctness of any description, thus effectively saying that the writer believes something like the reverse of the description.”

    Got that? I remain bracketed in the confines of my “mission impossible” but I swear that I will never give up until “I get my man.”

    Or woman.

  4. Pingback: Linkies Of Possible Interest « elitistsemicolon

  5. Dick

    Tell Tori Spelling to relax. Maybe her baby was born bi-lingual. In at least one language the word “dada” (unnecessary quotation marks) means “mother”–http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ewe_language

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