Just what the hell is "muffin top"!
Thursday, February 08, 2007

Well, it's a suprise (to me), "muffin top" is the winner of 2006, chosen by Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year Committee. Macquarie Dictionary Online:

muffin top
noun Colloquial the fold of fat around the midriff which, on an overweight woman, spills out over the top of tight-fitting pants or skirts.

The Committee thought that the vivid imagery of this word with its sense of playfulness and the fact that it is an Australianism made it the clear winner.

According to the committee, this seems to be an Australian creation which has spread around the world, carried on by the popularity of Kath and Kim ( a very popular homegrown sitcom which I did not watch but should have!).

Mass media, in particular the entertainment industry and the internet have a big impact on the constantly evolving naunces/cultural norms of a community, and since language is inextricably linked to culture, it is not surprising that the mass media has become the big player in the revival of old words, or the emerging popularity of blending of existing words or newly coined words.

Come to think of it, the chosen word, like many other informal phrases such as bloody hell, silly bugger, bludger and so forth, well and truly reflect one of the key characteristic of Australian culture - a typically Australian form of humour which is closely associated with the Australian idea of ‘mateship’, as well as the more relaxed and larrikin attitude of Australian society.

If I may borrow from A Wierzbicka (1991, Cross-cultural Pragmatics: the Semantics of Human Interaction) that,

Saying something bad about your mate is about sharing fun, rowdiness, and laughter, it is not intended to be hostile, it is a ‘friendly insult’, it promotes the feeling of intimacy.

My chosen word is on a more serious note - "Affluenza" which is given a honourable mention by the Committee.

noun the dissatisfaction that accompanies consumerism as a path to happiness.

The definition which seems current for the rest of the world is 'the psychological malaise suffered by wealthy young people with symptoms of lack of motivation and feelings of guilt'. In Australia the meaning has been generalised to cover a widespread social phenomenon, not just a malaise of the rich.

The Committee felt that this word framed a concept that was significant in the community and for which there was no other word. The coinage was neat, almost too neat, and, unlike many attempts at creating new words by blending, did lead to a reasonable grasp of the meaning from an analysis of its parts (affluent + influenza).

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"surge" - more palatable!
Monday, January 22, 2007

"surge" (referring to a large, but brief, increase in troop strength) is also in the running for word of the year.

The Washington Post by Paul Farhi: "surge is one of those words that's suddenly become the go-to phrase to describe a contemporary phenomenon ... its very vagueness might make it the politically perfect word for a controversial policy."

According to the article, "surge" conjures up " the rush of the ocean, or what a young person feels upon the first blush of love"; it is a perfect word to present an imagery of "a sharp but passing event" for a controversial policy, and makes it more "palatable".

In producing a piece of translation, one must go beyond focusing on the level of information-content and finding its equivalence, but to take the task to other levels such as shade of meaning, degree of forcefulness/vagueness, as well as any attached implicatures of the source language text - the above mentioned word is a typical example to which a professional translator must play close attention.

Paul's article also reminded me of an article I read many months ago by Glenn Kessier of Washington Post:
Two giants searching for a meaningful relationship
Upon a White House visit by Chinese premier Hu Jintao, the contrasting ideas about the modern US-China realtionship were reflected in the language the two leaders used. While Bush used terms such as "important relationship" , "stakeholders in the international system" to refer to China, avoiding terms to signal their relationship is on an equal footing, Hu framed it differently to place China on an equal level by saying that "...not only stakeholders, but they should also be constructive partners." This is yet another example of the choice of word and its attached implicature which we need to be very mindful of inorder to produce an accurate version of a source text.

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Pluto's revenge
Thursday, January 11, 2007

(CNN, 7 Jan 2007) (BBC News)-- 'Pluto may no longer be a planet, but it has a new claim to fame: "Plutoed" has been chosen 2006 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society.'

'The society defined "to pluto" as "to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto no longer met its definition of a planet." '

Winners of other catagories include: Most unnecessary category-"Surikat"; Most outrageous category-"Cambodian accessory; Most euphemistic category-"Waterboarding". If these catch your fancy, you can visit the links.

Culture is directly related to the way we perceive our world to which meaning shared by members of society have been attached. The attached meaning/value-attribute of word evolves with the constantly changing socio-political landscape of a given culture. As The American Dialect Society pointed out, "winning words or phrases don't have to be brand new; what's important is that they gained new prominence in the past year".

Macquarie dictionary (Australia) are also conducting an on-line survey, it would be interesting to compare the different values of the two cultural communities when the result comes out. The link between culture and language.

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Chinglish II
Friday, December 29, 2006

A follow up of Chinglish 1 (October 19).

Here are some examples of literally correct translations from an article by Mary-Anne Toy published in The Age.
...Saliva chicken -a cold dish of poached chiken in a peanut, garlic, ginger and green onion sauce - but no saliva.
(My guess is - the chicken dish is so delicious that make your mouth water)
...and pocked-face Ladies Tofu - mapo dofu, the chill hot beancurd dish named after an old woman called Ma.
The article mentions a draft list of translations that the 'Beijing Speaks Foreign Languages' program has posted on the Internet (but I've no luck in my search!). Below are some of the related websites I went to:

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Truthiness is the winner of word of the year in the online survey by US dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster.

1 : "truth that comes from the gut, not books" (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," October 2005
2 : "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true" (American Dialect Society, January 2006)
Related link: The Stephen Colbert character

According to Merrian-Webster president John Morse, the winner of word of the year best summed up 2006. "We're at a point where what constitutes truth is a question on a lot of people's minds, and truth has become up for grabs".

The result of this survey is a good example of how the emergence of new words is inextricably linked to social values, or at other times, how it gives new meaning to old words.

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Langugage is a living thing!
Monday, December 04, 2006

"Change and variable are as natural in languages as they are in other areas of human life" (culture!!!) (Quote from Merriam-Webster) - word usage is continuously being tracked by dictionary editors as it is used so that they can decide which words to include in the dictionary and to determine what they mean.

Merriam-Webster website wrote that "Each day most Merriam-Webster editors devote an hour or two to reading a cross section of published material, including books, newspapers, magazines, and electronic publications; in our office this activity is called "reading and marking." The editors scour the texts in search of new words, new usages of existing words, variant spellings, and inflected forms—in short, anything that might help in deciding if a word belongs in the dictionary, understanding what it means, and determining typical usage. Any word of interest is marked, along with surrounding context that offers insight into its form and use".

This year, Merriam-Webster OnLine is also asking users to nominate a word which they've encountered and think best represents the year 2006. Submit your nomination and have your say.

An interesting article relating to 'new word of the year' can be found in Stay In Touch SMH Dec 4 2006 - the verb 'to bone' was as a synonym for 'to sack, remove, dismiss or drive out' - emerged in an allegation that a broadcasting co CEO threatened to do this to one of its presenter.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

An article on BBC News Asia-Pacific reported that officials in the Chinese capital, Beijing, have launched a campaign to wipe out Chinglish - the mistranslated phrases often seen on Chinese street signs and product labels.

One such example :
'To take notice of safe, the slippery are very crafty' (Sign warning of slippery road)

Nonetheless, bad English are not the only problem to these bemusing and sometimes confusing mistranslated phrases. The leader of a special panel made up by English professors and expatriates living in Beijing to review these mistranslation now see the need for the Chinese people to "learn more about the culture of Western countries, so that people can better study and use a foreign language."

Below are more memorable examples of Chinglish sent by viewers to BBC News:
At the Terracotta Warriors Museum in Xi'an a sign said "Cherishing Flowers and Trees" which meant "keep off the grass". The other on a cruise on the Yangtse River, "Don't Bother" instead of "Do not Disturb" on the cabin doors. There were many others but these always made me smile. Lee Tomkow, Santa Barbara, California

My favourite is: "Please take advantage of the chambermaids" on a hotel brochure. Andrei Pogonaru, Bucharest, Romania.

While staying in a hotel in China I noticed that in with the free (complimentary) bath stuff was a number of items for sale including a pair of boxer shorts labelled "Uncomplimentary Pants"!! Stephen Mowll, Poole, Dorset, UK

Related internet links:

Below is a photo from Flickr which exemplifies the cultural differences - listed on the sign are some recreational activities prohibited on the grass area, yet in the Western culture, lawn or grass areas are created for exactly this very purpose! Rather then conveying a message, the sign violate the cultural expectation of the reader and leave them confused/alienated. A simple sign- "keep off the grass" will serve the purpose.

On either side of the sign is the reason given for the banned activies: please cherish the lawn/please respect life.

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Each language articulates or organises the world differently because different cultures take on different emotions and attitudes when they conceptualise their experiences or ideas and these are transmitted through their languages. We must be equipped with an intercultural awareness besides the language itself because target readers’ expectations differ by their linguistic conventions as well as their cultural norms...
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Just what the hell is "muffin top"!
"surge" - more palatable!
Pluto's revenge
Chinglish II
Langugage is a living thing!
"I'll kill you"
Too Bloody Hard to Teach Japan to Swear


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