Tag Archives: twitter

Germans on Twitter say ‘ja!’ to Nein Quarterly

Eric Jarosinski (Photo: Caitlan Carroll)

Eric Jarosinski (Photo: Caitlan Carroll)

Here’s a guest post from Frankfurt-based reporter Caitlan Carroll

“Nein Quarterly” has attracted more than 40,000 Twitter followers with its wry observations on everything from US politics to the sexiness of the German umlaut.

Here are a few Nein Quarterly quips: “What’s so awesome about nihilism? Nothing.”

“You call it happiness. I call it Acute Despair Deficit syndrome.”

“My Doppelgänger wants to start resembling other people.”

The man behind the Twitter feed is Eric Jarosinski, a German professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Jarosinski grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. His early experience with German culture came in the form of kitschy folk fests and polka nights, but he got to know the real Germany after spending time in the country and mastering the language.

“German for me was a lot like learning math which I was resistant to,” says Jaronsinski. “But I learned that it became something very different after I could make the language my own in some form and in fact, that’s something I encourage my students to do is to make puns in German.”

Puns and word play are trademarks of Nein Quarterly. His jokes jump from Marxism to pumpkin spice lattes—all told from the perspective of a depressed German philosopher pining for another time and place. It’s a persona Jarosinski loosely models on the real German philosopher Theodor Adorno, who died in 1969.

“More than anything I’ve tried to develop the persona of a loveable misanthrope who comments on most anything he encounters and feels like he has something to say about most everything he encounters.”

Jarosinski says he started Nein Quarterly over a year ago as a way to relax while writing a book about the concept of transparency. “Essentially this gave me a voice at a time when I found there was very little I could put on paper but there was a lot that I could type into my iPhone,” he says.

What started as a lark has turned into something more serious. Jarosinski is in Germany to meet with publishers to talk about future writing projects. Interest in Nein Quarterly is running high in Germany at the moment, especially among intellectuals.

Elka Sloan, a professional translator in Frankfurt, reads the Twitter feed for the word play. “The plays he does with sort of nihilist statements, the way he twists around famous quotes from philosophy and the way he breaks the German intellectual tradition through this satirical lens is, I think, the hilarity of it,” says Sloan.

It got Helmut Wicht laughing too. He teaches anatomy at Goethe University in Frankfurt. “I think the first tweet which actually made me follow him immediately was the famous one it must have been like a year ago on philosophy,” he says. “Three lines. First line: ‘Ontology – what the f—? Epistemology – Why the f—? Phenomology – The f—.'” (In the original tweet, Jarosinski spelled out the f— word.)

“And in that very moment,” says Wicht, “I hit the follow button.”

Wicht says Jarosinski has found Germany’s enigmatic funny bone. He jokes like an insider. “He is playing with that. He gives us the feeling that ultimately, finally there is someone out there in the Anglo-Saxon world who loves and understands us.”

That view from the outside is something that Germans crave, and Jarosinski knows it. “I have had people tell me that. That that is something that they have liked,” Jarosinski says. “How does an outsider perceive us? And in particular, an outsider who knows us somewhat—I think that has something to do with it as well.”

Jarosinski is raising money to support a Nein Quarterly blog he plans to launch at the end of this year. He’ll feature writing from many different contributors. He describes the blog this way on his website: “Words. Thought. Art. Umlauts. Despair.”


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A Bilingual Baseball Moment Sparks Twitter Rage

Pedro Gomez interviews Yoenis Cespedes

Pedro Gomez interviews Yoenis Cespedes

A post from my Big Show colleague Jason Margolis

Baseball fans last week were treated to the Major League All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. Cuban-born Yoenis Cespedes with the Oakland A’s won that contest.

The 27-year-old Cuban defected in 2011 to the Dominican Republic to become a Major League Baseball player.

Shortly after winning the contest, Cespedes was interviewed by ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, who switched between English and Spanish for both question and answer.

Not an easy thing to do on live television.

But, Gomez was blasted by many on Twitter for speaking Spanish.


This was not the first time that Gomez has switched between Spanish and English during a television interview. Gomez, who was was born and raised in Miami and is the son of Cuban refugees, grew up speaking both languages.

His talent is more and more in demand these days. According to Major League Baseball, on opening day this year 28 percent of baseball players were foreign born, and almost all of those were from Spanish-speaking countries.

Host Marco Werman spoke with Gomez, who is a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and has covered more than 15 World Series. Gomez defended foreign-born ballplayers who conduct their interviews in Spanish with ESPN.

“If we are able to do something like this, where we can hear their voice and then just do a quick translation for it, I’ve heard from so many people saying: What exactly is the harm?” said Gomez.

“To expect somebody who has been here 18 months or 24 months to already be able to conduct an interview in front of millions of people in a language that’s not theirs, I’d like to know if any of these people (critics of bilingual interviews) moved to Germany, in two years would they have German mastered? And I believe that the answer would be no.”

Gomez wasn’t the only Spanish speaker getting some blowback at the baseball festivities this week. During the All-Star Game on Tuesday, Grammy Award winning singer Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America.” Many people on Twitter criticized the choice of Anthony to sing this iconic American song. Anthony was born and raised in New York and is Puerto Rican.

In June, an 11-year-old Mexican-American boy born and raised in Texas sang the Star-Spangled Banner at Game 3 of the NBA Finals in San Antonio while dressed in his mariachi uniform. He too was the victim of anger and racist remarks on the internet for not being “American enough.”

In a show of support, the San Antonio Spurs invited the boy, Sebastien De La Cruz, for an encore performance in Game 4.

And while it’s tempting to say these incidents reflect a new mood in the United States, they don’t.

In 1968, a young Jose Feliciano, a virtuoso guitarist and singer born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City, sang the national anthem at the 1968 World Series in Detroit. Feliciano, who is blind, walked onto the field with his guide dog and guitar, then played a version with a Latin jazz twist.

Felicino was booed and roundly criticized for this, then banned from many American radio stations for several years sending his career into a nosedive.

Many years later, Feliciano wrote this in a blog post about his anthem rendition:

“I played it slowly and meaningfully, feeling the vastness of the stadium and the presence of so many people. But before I had finished my performance I could feel the discontent within the waves of cheers and applause that spurred on the first pitch — though I didn’t know what it was about.

Soon afterwards I found out a great controversy was exploding across the country because I had chosen to alter my rendition of the national anthem to better portray my feelings of gratitude. Veterans, I was being told, had thrown their shoes at the television as I sang; others questioned my right to stay in the United States and still others just attributed it to the times, feeling sad for the state of our country. But thankfully, there were many who understood the depth and breadth of my interpretation. Those, young and old, who weren’t jaded by the negativity that surrounded anything new or different. Yes, it was different but I promise you — it was sincere.”

45 years later, Feliciano’s version is widely considered one of the greatest, most memorable renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” ever recorded.

Feliciano has reprised his rendition many times since, including recently at the Major League Playoffs in San Francisco last year.



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The Pope’s Big News Came in…Latin

Pope Benedict’s decision to resign has taken many people by surprise—and not just because of what he said. How he said it also raised eyebrows.

He delivered the speech in Latin. Now, Latin is far from being a dead language on the page, but spoken Latin is barely living.

“I find it extremely moving and exciting,” said Harry Mount, author of ‘Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin in Your Life.’ “He clearly can speak Latin in a way that very few people can. Lots of people study it but they can’t actually speak it.”

Mount says that at the cardinals’ conference at which the pope announced his resignation, “quite a lot of the cardinals didn’t understand” what he was saying.

That’s quite a moment to miss out on, the first papal resignation in almost 600 years. It flew over the heads of most reporters there too. They tend to wait for the Vatican press office to translate the pontiff’s words.

But one reporter did understand what the pope was saying—Giovanna Chirri of the Italian news agency, ANSA.

“I understood but I didn’t want to believe,” said Chirri, a fan of Pope Benedict. But despite not wanting to believe the words, Giovanna Chirri did her job: she broke the news, and in so doing became part of the story.

Giovanna Chirri is no spring chicken. She’s often described as a veteran Vaticanista. She said the pope’s Latin is easy to understand. But her high school Latin must have stayed with her. “Boy, she knew her stuff,” said Harry Mount.

The pope appears to know his stuff too. As well as his speeches in Latin, he has re-introduced the Latin mass, and he even now tweets in Latin (or someone at the Vatican does).

Younger people are also helping revive the language. Several countries report that more school kids are studying Latin.

But you may still wonder what the point is of studying a language that perhaps just a few hundred people speak fluently.

“In English, two-thirds of English words are Latinate,” said Mount. “If you know that, you can swop between Latinate and Anglo-Saxon registers and you just understand the language, like someone who knows the rules of football or golf. You can play around with the language more because you know how it was constructed.”

There’s now an additional reason to study Latin: you may wind up breaking some big news.

Want more Latin? Here’s a previous podcast on the origins of everyone’s favorite dummy text, Lorem Ipsum.



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The Many Meanings of Chips Funga


[This is a guest post from Big Show Africa correspondent Anders Kelto]

It’s 2 am in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. Wendy Kimani is doing what a lot of young people here do around this time—standing outside a night club, holding a bag of French fries. You can see the grease soaking through.

“It tastes like heaven,” says Wendy. “Greasy as hell. And we like it that way.”

French fries to go—or chips funga as they’re called here—are the late-night snack of choice in Nairobi. But recently, chips funga has taken on a whole new meaning.

“It’s basically taking a lady home who you don’t know,” says singer Anto Neosoul. “You met her for the first time, and you take her home for a one-night stand.”

Neosoul is a rising star on the Kenyan music scene. His song, ‘Chips Funga,’ has been riding high on the airwaves here for more than a year.


Neosoul says when he first heard the term chips funga he immediately got it. He says young Kenyans are constantly inventing new slang terms—in English, Swahili, and tribal languages.

The phrase chips funga started popping up on Facebook and Twitter about two years ago, says Harriet Ocharo, a 25-year-old technology writer. So she decided to blog about it. She asked readers about the “etiquette” of a chips funga. The comments started pouring in.

“No sleeping over,” was one comment. “No phone calls before 9 pm, like, there’s nothing to talk about during the day, so you only call for the hook-up in the evening.”

“No emotional discussions. All gifts are accepted; money is always good. No baby talk.”

Ocharo says, at first, it was mostly men who used the term. But now, women use it too. They’ve even come up with a spin-off: sausage funga. You can probably figure out what that one means. Ocharo says women’s use of these slang terms is a sign of the times in Nairobi, where women no longer feel bound by traditional gender roles.

“Nairobi is a very free town,” says Ocharo. “No one judges a woman if she chips fungas a guy or the other way around. I think it’s a good sign.”

There’s even an online dating site called Chips Funga.

But singer Anto Neosoul says he sometimes worries that young people in Kenya are chips funga-ing too much. And they’re putting themselves in dangerous situations.

“We might contract HIV and AIDS,” says Neosoul. “We might contract STDs and STIs, we might get pregnant.”

Anto even worries that the term makes people want to chips funga – because it sounds funny and lighthearted. So he wanted his song to send a message: that it isn’t necessarily good to be a chips funga. The third verse, which he sings in Swahili, does just that.

“If I put it in English,” says Neosoul, “it would basically be, ‘Put on some ketchup, put on some mayonnaise, put on some salad, you’ve just been served. So, you’ve had a one-night stand, and that’s what you are. You’re chips. You’re French fries. You’re vegetables. And you’ve made yourself cheap, like chips.’”

That’s the message Anto wants people to hear. But it may be the opposite message that has them singing along.

Watch a 15-minute documentary of the chips funga phenomenon here.




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Retweeting Bad Grammar and Good Tamil

I like Twitter.  I like the character limit. And I love opening up Twitter first thing in the morning , reading tweets that are mainly (at that time of day) from another time zone. My own dawn chorus.

Mostly, I tweet about other reporters’ or bloggers’ language stories– stories that I am not going to get to but they are worth noting and passing on. This can be dangerous. I often tweet on issues about which I know little. And I do it at speed. Sometimes I mis-convey the story. Sometimes I mis-type a word. Sometimes I misspell. Sometimes, my grammar isn’t great. (Forget tweeting, that all sounds just like regular daily journalism…)

So what happens when you come across a tweet that you would love to RT, but you…just…can’t? You can’t get past the bad spelling or grammar.

There is one solution: instead of RT-ing, you can MT, or write a modified tweet. You correct the spelling, clean up a bit of grammar. You can even amplify a thought or clarify a sloppy piece of writing. Just make sure you write MT. That worked for me, until I heard a conversation on the BBC– a conversation that, in an audio sort of way, I MT’d in this podcast episode (I recut the interview slightly and introduced it differently).

The discussion was between the BBC’s Evan Davis and comedian and serial tweeter (now taking a Twitterbreak) David Schneider. Now Schneider, like many of us, doesn’t have much time for those self-appointed sticklers who roam the internet in search of bad grammar or poor spelling: he calls them peddants (his spelling).

But maybe a grammatical error is part of the communication. A poorly written tweet may tell you that the tweet was written in a hurry. It may indicate that the writer doesn’t care about grammar or spelling. That makes me hesitate.

On the other hand, I’ve been relieved and grateful when my own misspelled tweets have been cleaned up by others…

Otherwise in this week’s pod, it’s all Tamil. This is a language that has more speakers than Italian or Turkish, but there are fears about its future. We hear from a lexicographer who is painstakingly compiling a Tamil dictionary. And we talk to two Indians about a song that has become an internet sensation. Titled Kolaveri Di, it’s sung partly in Tamil, partly in English, and partly in Tanglish,  the (now-inevitable) mash-up of the two.

Listen via iTunes or here.


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Twanging with Lynne Murphy aka Lynneguist

A conversation with University of Sussex linguist Lynne Murphy. An American in Britain, Murphy maintains the Separated by a Common Language blog, where she goes by the moniker Lynneguist.

Murphy’s accent is soft, but that doesn’t stop Brits from mocking it and labeling it twangy. If she has a twang, then the guitarist in the painting is Dolly Parton.

Among the many observations noted in her blog, Murphy has seen British English lose some of its status among Americans. We talk about that, along with the changing accent patterns in Britain surrounding social class, and pronunciation of the word water.

Listen via iTunes or here.

Photos: Wikicommons


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What’s Assyrian for Canuck?

After a global effort lasting nearly a century, the University of Chicago is publishing an Assyrian dictionary. We hear from one scholar at the British Museum who dedicated three years of his career to the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Project.  In the scheme of this endeavor, three years isn’t especially long: the project began in in 1921. It is 21 volumes long.

Why spend so much time on a “dead” language? Because this was the world’s first written language, according to most experts. The cuneiform script — used first for the Sumerian language, and then to write Assyrian and Babylonian — inspired  that better-known ancient writing system, hieroglyphics.

The raw material for this dictionary was text written on Mesopotamian clay and stone tablets. There were legal and medical documents, love letters, epic poems, the lot. There is now hope that ancient history will now be rewritten, giving pride of place to Mesopotamian culture. Egpytians, Greeks, Romans: your time is up.

Also in the pod this week, Donald Keene’s love affair with Japanese has culminated with his move from New York to Tokyo at the age of 89. Keene recently stopped teaching at Columbia. His retirement received far more coverage in Japan than in his native United States. He learned Japanese in the 1930s, then honed his skills interrogating captured Japanese troops during World War Two. In New York, he leaves behind him a Japanese cultural center named after him.

The pod features two other items:  France prohibits broadcasters from saying Facebook or Twitter on the air. And is the word Canuck offensive? Not to most Canadians, says Vancouverite (and Vancouver Canucks fan) Andrea Crossan. However, the delighfully cheesy song Andrea  dredged up to make this point may offend even if  Canuck does not.

Listen via iTunes or here.

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