gender, language, other topics, politics

Should Bill Clinton Apologize?

 

Apologies are some of the hardest speech acts, both intellectually and interactionally.

 

They are intellectually difficult because it’s often hard to know whether an apology is owed, to whom, and in what form; and interactionally hard because making an apology puts the maker in a one-down position to the person apologized to, and a full apology requires the apologizer to make, explicitly or tacitly, a number of self-destructive statements: I was wrong; I did harm to you; I need your forgiveness. So making an apology always entails a loss of power.

 

Hence apologies take many forms, direct and indirect, explicit or hinted at, depending on the seriousness of the misdeed and the power relationship between the parties. Continue reading

Standard
language, other topics

A Tale of Two Scoundrels

Our topic today is useful and instructive: how to be (and how not to be) a successful con artist. I am drawing inspiration from an article in the New York Times’s business section, which compares and contrasts the treatment of the two examples, Elizabeth Holmes and Martin Shkreli. Both, it turns out, are scammers, but their legal treatment has been very different. Continue reading

Standard
language, other topics, politics

Don Dare Call It Treason

 

“Can we call that treason?” Mr. Trump said of the stone-faced reaction of Democrats to his speech. “Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

 

“Even on positive news, really positive news like that, they were like death and un-American,” he said, repeating, “Un-American. Somebody said treasonous. I mean, yeah, I guess, why not.”

 

The above comments were made by President Trump on February 5, referring to Democrats who didn’t give him standing O’s at his State of the Union address.

His minders evidently found his remarks less than scintillating. By the next day all the usual White House commentators were calling the comments “joking” or “tongue in cheek,” as if by establishing that interpretation they were dispelling any reason for anxiety.

 

There are several questions to ask about these remarks: Continue reading

Standard
language, other topics, politics

Alas, Poor Adjective!

Pity the poor adjective. It gets no respect. And yet, it does essential work.

 

Its troubles start with its etymology. A “verb” is literally a “word” (Latin verbum). So it takes for itself the whole provenance of language. We think of verbs as the stuff that makes language go – they do or act. Hence Dr. Phil warns his guests: “I’m going to put some verbs in my sentences,” i.e., “Beware! Life-changing talk is about to happen (after these commercials, of course)!” Attention must be paid to the verb.

 

Verbs are masculine, because they do things, and that is masculine. Italian has a proverb: Words are feminine, deeds masculine. The saying expresses double contempt: for the do-nothing word and for femininity. At least a verb, despite the proverb, does something, so its purely linguistic status is not totally contemptible.

 

Nouns come second: they are names (Latin nomen). So while they are not considered the all-important doers of language, at least they identify who or what, is doing what to whom. Nouns and verbs together are often thought of as the underpinnings of language; all else is frippery, feminine adornment. That naturally would include the adjective. Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

What Do Women Want? REVOLUTION!

 

 

You say you want a revolution?

Well, you know

We all want to change the world….

 

But when you talk about destruction

Don’t you know

That you can count me out….

 

                        The Beatles (1968)

 

#MeToo and its allies are running into the inevitable and fully anticipated backlash. The commentary lately has been turning critical. Some of the critiques seem unduly harsh, others more reasonable. But the reasonable and the destructive invoke many of the same arguments. Continue reading

Standard
gender, other topics, politics

Thinking of 2020

 

It is remarkable how eager we are to glide over the 2018 midterms (which are crucially important) in order to speculate about the 2020 presidential campaign. Of course, the presidency is more important than any seat in congress. But what happens to congress in 2018 will not only be used by the pundits as an augury of 2020 (and thus create a presumption in favor of one candidate or the other) but will determine exactly how bad the years between 2018 and 2020 (or, heaven forfend, 2024) will be.

 

But even knowing this I find 2020 irresistible to contemplate. That is all the more true since Oprah Winfrey’s triumphant performance at the Golden Globes award ceremony on January 7. Continue reading

Standard
gender, other topics, politics

2017

As is customary, I am using the approach of the new year as an excuse to look back at the old one and make some sort of sense of it.

 

It is entirely possible that, when historians of the future look back, they will declare unequivocally that the year 2017 was the most important year in human history, the year when everything, and everyone, changed – and on the whole, for the better.

 

Of course today it is too soon to make that pronouncement, but it suddenly makes sense – a very possible reality rather than a dream. We will know by then that 2017 was the year in which women became willing and able to trust, help, and like other women. From that visceral change sprang all the other changes. Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

The Anomalous Society

In recent years, America has become an anomalous society, bereft of many of the social rules, explicit and especially implicit, that previously we lived by. That may sound good – liberating and innovative, free of the burdensome constraints that plagued our ancestors and slowed progress. But too much of a good thing is not always wonderful, and on occasion freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. The loss of our system of culturally based rules may even be responsible for part of the fix we are in.

 

The rules I am talking about here are not the explicit ones we recite to our children: Say Thank you. Put away your toys. Don’t make fun of other people. The rules I am talking about are the ones most adults used to figure out by themselves in the course of arriving at maturity, implicit assumptions about how to be human, how to be a person of gender, how to manage work, friendships, and intimacy, and many more. A great many of these are currently gone or contested. Continue reading

Standard
other topics

Man’s Best Friend, the Snake

 

(Note: I have virtually no background in theology. It seems incredible to me that no Old Testament scholar has thought about the most serious problem I discuss here (other problems have had a good deal of discussion). So if anyone knows of such discussion, please give me the reference.)

 

I don’t know how you feel about everything currently going on in this part of the world (or any other part, for that matter), but I just can’t think about it any more. The only comforting option is to get as far away as possible, in time and space: back to where it all began (which could possibly provide a clue about what is going wrong. Or in any case, it is something better to think about.) Return with me to those golden days of yesteryear – the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis. (I am using the King James Version of the Old Testament.)

 

In the first version of the story, God creates everything else in five days, and on the sixth, needing intelligent oversight for his creations, man and woman on the sixth. And he made both of them the stewards of everything else he had created. Continue reading

Standard
gender, language, other topics, politics

Get Thee Behind Me, Donald! Or Don’t

  1. What does a woman running for president have to do to be likable?
  2. Not run for president.

 

And with that question answered, let us turn to the matter of the second presidential debate. What was going on? What did the media analysts opine was going on? What if anything does the answer to the first question have to do with the answer to the second?

 

Answer: Nothing.

 

Almost without exception, every media pundit has declared Trump’s recently revealed effusions “disgusting” and “unacceptable.” I agree with those assessments, but I don’t share their reasons for declaring Trump’s remarks “disgusting” and “unacceptable.” Well, yes, to an extent I agree: thinking of women as objects existing purely for the sexual gratification of men like Trump is as vile as it is antediluvian. But the media focus has been on the words themselves. Yet the words, here as elsewhere with Trump, are merely carriers of a gender message that carries far beyond Trump, and goes way outside the “locker room.” This is what the analysts cannot or will not face, for they, mostly males, are complicit in the game. Continue reading

Standard