Tag Archives: Pakistan

What Drones, Bees and Marilyn Monroe Have in Common

Here’s a guest post from Carol Kozma

In the 1930s, Admiral William Standley visited the United Kingdom when the Royal Navy gave him a presentation of the “Queen Bee”. That was a remotely controlled aircraft– a prototype the Royal Navy had developed for the gunnery to use as target practice.

“Admiral Standley was so impressed that when he came back to the United States, he got his men on it, and in homage to the Queen Bee, he chose the name drone.”

Marilyn Monroe as Norma Jean Dougherty (Photo: commons.wikimedia/David Conover

Marilyn Monroe as Norma Jean Dougherty (Photo: commons.wikimedia/David Conover

That’s according to Ben Zimmer, a linguist who writes the language column for the Washington Post, and the executive producer of vocabulary.com and the Visual Thesaurus.

He recently discussed the origins of the word “drone” and its new use as transitive verbs.

To hear more about drones, and how Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan are all connected, take a listen.



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In Pakistan, No One Admits to Being a ‘Burger’

Where it all began: Mr. Burger in Karachi (Photo: Fahad Desmukh)

Where it all began: Mr. Burger in Karachi (Photo: Fahad Desmukh)


Here’s a guest post from Karachi-based reporter Fahad Desmukh, who often files stories for the Big Show

It may be hard to imagine, given the pervasiveness of McDonald’s these days, but hamburgers were virtually unknown in Pakistan before 1981.

Arshad Jawad is the manager of Mr. Burger, the first fast-food chain in Pakistan.

“Believe it or not, a lot of people didn’t know what cheese was. When we were putting a slice of cheese on the patty, they were looking at us asking like ‘Is is this plastic, is it rubber?’” Jawad said.

When Mr. Burger opened in Karachi, it initially got mixed reactions. It wasn’t a big deal for people who had visited the West. But many would-be customers didn’t know what hamburgers were, or how to eat them.

“After we made the burger people were asking, ‘How do you eat this? We need a spoon, we need a plate.’ So we had to educate them. We said ‘Look, this is a wrapper. Grab the wrapper, open it gingerly and use that,’” he said, chuckling.

Back then, going out for a hamburger was a big deal, and many people can still recall their first, clandestine, date at a Mr. Burger.

It was only a matter of time before the fad caught on, and Mr. Burger was hot.

For some.

Mr. Burger in Karachi (Photo: Fahad Desmukh)

Mr. Burger in Karachi (Photo: Fahad Desmukh)

For many years, the average working or middle class Pakistani was unable to afford Mr. Burger. So the word “burgers” came to describe young, westernized urban elite, who studied at expensive schools, spoke English rather than Urdu and preferred eating burgers rather than local cuisine. They were derided for being, out of touch with mainstream Pakistani society.

By some accounts, the term was first coined in a TV comedy called “Burger Family”, about a rich Westernized family in Pakistan.”

Today, there are lots of fast-food burger chains – local and international. But the word is still associated with the elite class in the local lingo.

And there’s a rap song called “The Burgers of Karachi” recently put out by local group “Young Stunners”.

They describe a typical Burger as someone who wears skinny jeans and Nikes, uses a smartphone, and holds a US Green Card.

One of the high school-age rappers, Talha Anjum, says a Burger is someone who wants to be someone they aren’t.

“If you listen to Burger-e-Karachi, we’re not making fun of people,” Anjum said. “It’s just a message that you should be real to yourself and real to the people around you. You shouldn’t judge someone if they don’t have a branded T-shirt.”

Burgers may be ridiculed for trying to be something that they are not, but they have mobilized recently.

A Typical Bun Kebab Shop in Karachi (Photo: Fahad Desmukh)

A Typical Bun Kebab Shop in Karachi (Photo: Fahad Desmukh)

The urban elite have generally shunned politics in the past. But in last month’s elections, they rallied around former cricket hero Imran Khan, using their access to wealth and the media to help his PTI party. It won the second highest number votes. Misbah Khalid, a member of the party’s campaign team, says its not such a bad thing to have “burgers” on their side.

“Because now they are taking ownership of the country. Now people in every class as you say own Karachi, own Pakistan. So I think that’s a great achievement, because you need people who have exposure to the outside world, who are maybe – what you say – the ‘intellectuals,’” she said.

The spread of the term “burger” has sparked a counter-term: the “bun kebabs.” Bun kebabs are cheap home-grown versions of hamburgers made with lentils. So a “bun kebabs” is a person who’s a bumpkin compared to a burger.

Burger e Karachi



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Word of the Year: The Middle Squeezes its Way to the Top

The Oxford English Dictionary has revealed its word of the year: squeezed middle (hey, that’s two words!).  Don’t ask me to define it. British Labor leader Ed Miliband ran into trouble doing that. Suffice to say, it refers to a class of people, who would appear to make up more than 90% of the population– and therefore the electorate. The implication is that despite their huge numbers, they are being economically squeezed– in a vise conspiratorially operated by the very rich and the very poor.

In previous years, OED editors have named a US word and a UK word. American English and British English are, after all, an ocean apart. This year, squeezed middle is the global winner, which is odd. As political rhetoric–  which is all this phrase really is– it’s been far more popular in the UK than in the US.

Also-rans this year include Arab Spring, occupy, clicktivism, bunga bunga and tiger mother.

I’m not sure what the Pakistan government’s position might be on any of those words. (I’m guessing they’d have a problem with bunga bunga.) But in the pod, we take a look at the government’s  move– now shelved– two ban nearly two thousand words from text messaging.  Most of the words are sexually frank, the usual nasty stuff. But many others are mild or just bizarre: flatulence, period, athlete’s foot, monkey crotch.  Urdu expressions meaning nonsense (buckwaas) and foolish (bewakoof) would also have been banned.

We round off the pod with a list of mainly invented words. These appear on the title track to Kate Bush’s new album, 50 Words For Snow. Bush knows there are not 50 words for snow, in English or any other language. (Eskimo languages are often credited with having up to 23 words for snow; they don’t.)  Bush plays on this myth by having collaborator Stephen Fry enunciate 50 words. Some are poetic English: drifting, swans-a melting, vanilla swarm. Some are just poetic: terrablizza, sleetspoot’n. psychohail, spangladasha. All these words, says Bush in the pod, had to her “a sense os meaning something that was evocative of snow.”

Listen via iTunes or here.


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