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Sunday, 26 October 2014

What is a Truther?


British celebrity Russell Brand recently declared on BBC Newsnight that he had 'an open mind' about the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, drawing viewers attention the fact that one of the adjacent towers survived relatively unscathed. Either consciously or unwittingly he was echoing a central claim of the so called 'truther' movement.

What is the 'truth' allegedly being denied to the public?  

 'Truthers' question the official description of 9/11 as a terrorist attack. They dismiss all the known evidence (see here for a summary) and suggest many improbable alternative theories. These usually involving government conspiracies - hence the appeal for the responsible agencies to confess their involvement: Tell Us the truth about ....

The 'truther' movement has its origins on the far left, with some of its exponents claiming that Israel was mysteriously involved in the Al Queda attack.. Truthism has been largely a fringe movement but there have been a few high profile exponents. One of President Obama's specially appointed 'czars' (Van Jones) was forced to resign  when his truther views became public.

Were there conspiracy theories before 9/11?

Extreme scepticism about 'official' history has a long history in the USA. It gained momentum in the late Sixties with the rise  - of  'second shooter' theories regarding the Kennedy assassination. The Watergate affair then appeared to give legitimacy to a cynical interpretation of the behaviour of government backed agencies like the CIA.

Ironically, it has been the brutal reality of terrorist atrocities that has undermined the truther movement. Whatever Americans feel about their politicians, few that there is a live and present danger to their security. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Dude! Where does the word dude come from?

with thanks to Taking English One Thumb at a Time
(dūd, dyūdpronunciation
  1. Informal. An Easterner or city person who vacations on a ranch in the West.
  2. Informal. A man who is very fancy or sharp in dress and demeanor.
  3. Slang.
    1. A man; a fellow.
    2. dudes Persons of either sex.
Slang. To dress elaborately or flamboyantly: got all duded up for the show.

interj. Slang
Used to express approval, satisfaction, or congratulations. Source

The origins of the word dude are disputed but certainly predate Dude, Where’s my Car? (2000). According to the American Heritage Dictionary: 
Originally it was applied to fancy-dressed city folk who went out west on vacation. In this usage it first appears in the 1870s.

A New York newspaper declared one Evan Berry (left) the ‘King of the Dudes’ in 1888. 'Dude' makes an appearance  in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). The word also pops-up in the letters of an unlikely hipster P.G Woodhouse the only English characters the American public would read about were exaggerated dudes. 

In the 1962 John Ford western, The Man who Shot Liberty Valance Ranse Stoddard (James Stewart) is accused of being a 'dude' - a Fancy-Dan lawyer and interloper. 

In the early 60s, 'dude' was adopted as surfer slang and then more generally amongst west-coast hipsters. It appears in the uber-cool counter-cultural film Easy Rider (1969), though the Peter Fonda character needs to have  meaning of the word explained to him.  

By the early 70s 'dude' was a staple of the cool-cat dictionary. David Bowie sent it into the singles chart with All the Young Dudes (1972) , while the ultimate hipsters, Steely Dan, recorded  Every Major Dude (1974). 

Outside of California dude faded in the same way as ‘groovy’ and ‘gear’ went out of fashion. For next generation hipsters the word was slightly embarrassing reminder of the 60s. 

Gradually dude regained its hip status and sub-cultural kudos. But it was t
he success of The Big Lewbowski (1998) then transformed 'dude' from the linguistic equivalent of a cult Indie band to the U2 of contemporary vocabulary. Lebowski fans  even created a 'religion, Dudeism.

Now dude is everywhere, dude. It has become the all-purpose expression for everything  - from expressing approval ("Dude!") to indicating gender ('the dude in the hat').

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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Where does the word Halloween come from?

Hallowe'en or All-Hallows-Eve takes place on the night of 31 October. Hallow is the old English word for saint On All Hallows Day the Catholic Church remembers Christian martyrs. 

All Saints/Hallows Day has been celebrated on 1 November since the Middle Ages.  

All Souls Day follows on 2 November. On All Souls Day Catholics pray for the 'souls of the departed'.

Is Halloween Christian or Pagan? 

Both. Like Christmas, Halloween combines pagan & Christian customs. 
  • The lighting of bonfires symbolizes the plight of souls lost in purgatory (Catholic) while frightening away witches and ghouls (Pagan). 
  • souling - going door-to-door offering prayers for the dead in exchange for "soul cakes" and other treats.
  • mumming (or "guising") was acustom originally associated with Christmas. It consisted of parading in costume, chanting rhymes, and play-acting.  Source

But isn't the Catholic Church against Halloween?

Not exactly. It just does not recognise it as a religious holiday (again like Christmas Eve). Nor does it approve of modern attempts to connect Halloween with devil-worship, witchcraft etc.

Today  the religious elements of Halloween eclipse the pagan ones. Sadly there are no Jack O Lanterns in the Bible!
Another example of the devil having all the best tunes ...

Halloween often features in Victorian ghost stories. 

E. Nesbit's 'Man-Made-in-Marble' is a good example - read and/or listen to a retelling here.

Halloween Traditions 
Halloween Ghost Story
Classic Ghost Stories
About Halloween

Monday, 13 October 2014

What's the difference between satire & parody?

A deceptively complex question. Here is one confidently expressed answer:

Satirical magazine
Alternative explanations put more emphasis on the intent of the parodist/satirist
Satire can be termed as humour and anger combined together. Parody is really meant for mocking and it may or may not incite the society. Parody is just pure entertainment and nothing else. It does not have a direct influence on the society.
While Satire makes a serious point through humour, Parody does not contain any thing serious. Parody is just fun for fun’s sake. Satire can induce the society to think where as parody does not. While satire stands for changing the society, parody only stands for fun and making fun.
In everyday usage satire and parody are used interchangeably but perhaps parody is more a form of caricature: an exaggeration of immediately recognisable traits or features. Parody puts more emphasis on accurate imitation of detail than satire, which is more broadly ideological.
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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

What's a troll? Internet Vocab FAQ

An internet troll is someone who joins a group or message board with the aim of causing problems. The etymology is complex and can be traced to old French hunting term troller and a norse one for a mythological monster. 

The interent use of troll probably derives from a slang term used by US naval pilots in the 1970s - see here.

The word has recently re-entered the news with the death of a woman alleged to have carried out a troll campaign against the McCann family.

Trolling can simply consist of crude abuse but some self-confessed trolls pride themselves on their cunning attacks on their victims. One strategy is to join a group under false pretences and then goad genuine members of the group with ridiculous, provocative or abusive comments. 

Sometimes trolling can have a sinister impact Jojo Moyes revealed in a recent article in the Daily Telegraph

Trolling - posting inflammatory comments on web sites is on the rise. Recent victims include a schoolgirl who committed suicide; a reporter attacked in Egypt; and a pregnant celebrity.

See full article here

Internet Slang Dictionary

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Thursday, 11 September 2014

Phrases associated with the Titanic?

And the band played on
One of the most striking images from the disaster is that of the orchestra playing as the ship sank.
Survivors of the ship witnessed one of the greatest acts of selflessness and courage when Wallace Hartley and his string ensemble played music on the upper deck soon after the Titanic struck the iceberg in order to calm the passengers.
Though the ensemble did not  play the eponymous popular song, the phrase has been a favourite in newspaper headlines ever since. It was also the title for a famous book about the early history of HIVAIDS by Randy Shilts. (source)

The tip of the iceberg 

Only 10% of an iceberg is visible above the surface of the water. Used metaphorically the phrase refers to hidden danger.

Recent research suggests the phrase was unusually resonant in the disaster: 'the ship crashed because the iceberg was disguised by an optical illusion' - see here.

Women and children first

The first recorded use is in the novel Harrington: A True Story of Love by William O’Connor written in 1860. The phrase was popularized, however, by the famous order issued by the captain of the Titanic, Edward Smith.
What Captain Smith precisely meant by this order caused a catastrophic confusion onboard and probably caused at least a hundred uneccessary fatatalities.
Unfortunately for the men aboard the sinking ship, some of the officers misunderstood the order and prevented men from climbing aboard the lifeboats. The final casualties explain the cost of that misunderstanding: 74% of the women and 52% of the children were saved; however only 20% of the men survived. source
In recent years there has been a lot of emphasis on the social class element of the disaster. Were the first class passengers favoured over those travelling Second or Third?

The unsinkable ship
This marketing slogan proved tragically hubristic. No ship is 'unsinkable' and the design of the Titanic made it catastrophically vulnerable - see here.

Rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic

This phrase - meaning to engage in trivial actions in the face of a disaster - is first recorded in the US in the 1970s - see here. It has now become a popular cliche - particularly for British politicians.

Mary Celeste Teaching Pack (includes Titanic materials)

Thursday, 4 September 2014

What does stalwart mean? Where does the word come from?

Atticus Finch:the stalwart hero of To Kill a Mockingbird 
A stalwart person is reliable, dependable, resolute (or inflexible depending on your perspective.) The word is probably a  14th Century Scottish variant on a old English term: stælwierðe "good, serviceable,"

In the US the term acquired a political dimension with a section of the Republican Party  that refused to abandon its Civil War hostility to the south. They became known as the 'Stalwart Party', a label that stuck.

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