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Eames chairs

Retro (a retrospective on retrograde)

RETRO: “Imitative of a style or fashion from the recent past.” – Oxford English Dictionary

Reader David Elliot commented on last month’s article:

I understood the term ‘retro’ as we use it in English coming to us from the French adjective ‘rétrograde’ originally, used as a shortened bit of slang in the 60s.

I believe that’s the earliest use in English vernacular and commercial copy to mean throwback or vintage (not its academic or scientific use).

So, that makes the Mossberg mark that much more precise.

D.E. is right on the time frame. Almost all authorities date retro to 1960s France, with common usage in English booming in the early 1970s. But here sources diverge as to whether retro derives from rétrograde, as he cites, or rétrospectif. Merriam-Webster favors rétrospectif whereas the OED (Lexicide’s go-to source) throws its beret in with rétrograde. Two French dictionaries cite rétrospectif as the source.

Rétrospectif is directly equivalent to the English retrospective (“looking back”), so that etymology makes sense. I wondered, however, if rétrograde carries the same negative color as its English counterpart. Here’s where I consulted with French teacher Erin, who in turn contacted one of her French amis. She replied: “C’est négatif et obscurantiste.”

There aren’t many words we don’t know at Lexicide, but obscurantist (in English) definitely drove us to the dictionary. (Obscurantism is “the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or full details of something from becoming known,” according to Oxford.) So oui, rétrograde is just as much of an insult in the francosphere as it is the anglosphere.

Reader Andy also commented on retrograde and retro:

It’s funny how “retro” has become a word unto itself. It’s not merely a descriptive prefix, or an abbreviation for “retrograde,” but it seems to specifically refer to style or design, and it carries a positive (or at least nostalgic) connotation.

It’s also oddly specific. Nobody would refer to Conestoga wagons or Gregorian chant as “retro,” though they come from earlier times. It seems to me that “retro” refers to the zeitgeist of Americana in the 1950s through perhaps the 1980s, though I expect this will expand as the population ages. “Retro” needs to have occurred within living memory and needs to have been part of a pop-culture movement that has definitely ended, AND has since been re-imagined or mythologized.

Having studied philosophy in college, we’re not surprise Andy latched on to this. Of course, retro is not pinned to a specific era, but to nostalgia, and one can’t be nostalgic over things one didn’t live through. The Wikipedia article offers a good summary on retro’s origins and future.

– Otto E. Mezzo

Retrograde

RETROGRADE: “Reverting to an earlier and inferior condition.” – Oxford English Dictionary

This dropped last week:

Mossberg Announces Retrograde Pump-Action Shotguns

Designed to commemorate Mossberg’s 100th anniversary in 2019, the Retrograde Series features the two most iconic police and military pump-action shotguns, built to today’s standards, but with the retro look and feel of a walnut stock and matching corncob fore-end.

So… Mossberg decided to market these shotguns as “Retrograde” as opposed to “vintage”, “historic”, or simply “retro”, a descriptor they use in this press release.

Why is this a problem? Because unlike the above terms, retrograde carries negative connotations – just like opinionated, simplistic, stagnant, and reactionary. Yet people (including firearms marketers) seem to be oblivious to this distinction and use these words in neutral or (in this case) positive contexts.

[At this point, the THUNDER of HORSES – dozens of them, a veritable horde! – interrupts Otto in mid-complaint. A COOPER in a MAGA hat pushes his way to the front.]

                  COOPER
Come down off your high horse, Otto! Retrograde just means what it sounds like – “something from the past!” Like hand-crafted oak hogsheads and Justin Timberlake! Ain’t nothing wrong with that!

[OTTO, unfazed, Googles retrograde and displays the results:]

Then there’s Trump’s new pick for attorney general, William P. Barr. Aside from Sessions and Otis, it would be hard to find a more retrograde, anti-reform candidate to head up the Justice Department.

(The Washington Post, “Let’s Stop Pretending That Trump Cares About Criminal Justice Reform,” 11 December, 2018)

Labour leader Councillor Lisa Eldret called the Conservative plans “retrograde” andadded that they would “set us back for decades to come”.

(DerbyshireLive, “Row over Assembly Rooms plandeepens ahead of cabinet meeting,” 11 December, 2018)

A lot of classic holiday specials have horrible retrograde messages. That just makes them quintessential Americana.

(Salon.com, “It’s not just “Rudolph”: Holiday TV specials are mostly creepy, weird or depressing as hell,” 13 December, 2018)
                    WHALER
Slander most foul! So “conservative” is the same as “backward” and “unenlightened”? I should expect as much from The Washington Post and Salon.

                    PHONE BOOK AD COPYWRITER
Excuse me, Otto, but you’re wrong. Retro is the cat’s pajamas, pops! So why not retrograde?

                    OTTO
Do I really have to answer that? Hey! Why am I talking in Academy screenwriting format? Why is it spaced with tab stops and set in Courier?

                   WILLIAM FAULKNER
Because now you, too, are the very embodiment, the very spirit, the essence of retrograde, whose putrid, mortifying calumny clung to the words – those nouns, those adjectives, those interjections – BANG! – you claim to cherish but instead bleed of all joy. Like me, as I lay dying.

Right or wrong, retrograde carries negative connotations,so instead use traditional, historic, antique, vintage, throwback, or retro.

– Otto E. Mezzo

From the New York Times: This Grammar Guru Will Solve the World’s Problems

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, Lexicide don’t do no grammar. However, we’re not above a feel-good story, especially when it covers a kindred spirit (and in the New York Times, no less):

This Grammar Guru Will Solve the World’s Problems

Ellen Jovin has a lot more courage than Lex and Otto. You’ll never see us battle the Jehovah’s Witnesses for sidewalk space!

Demonyms: the Final Words

I didn’t expect to write five posts on demonyms, but here we must brake the trolley, this time outside the Anglosphere. My aside on growing up Chinese American (as opposed to, say, Chinish or Chinesque American) took me back to the days of Chinese school, those glorious Sunday afternoons spent indoors practicing calligraphy and vocabulary instead of playing kickball or jumping bikes off curbs. In Chinese, we learned, the United States was mei guo (美国), literally “the beautiful country.” Americans are mei guo ren, or “beautiful country people.” I don’t know which Chinese came up with that, but as an American, I am flattered.

Mei Guo written in traditional Chinese script. This is the way I learned to write it.

Also as an American, I’m conflicted, as there are two continents called America, so technically Chileans and El Salvadorans are also American. No other country seems to have the awkward co-opting of an entire continent, much less two. Well, there is Australia, of course, but the country and the continent are synonymous. For the one other nation that takes the name of its continent, South African rolls easily off the tongue in a way that United States of American does not. But non-Americans tell me there’s no cause for angst. Spanish speaking Latin Americans describe residents of the United States as estadounidense. And everyone else in the world just calls us Americans without a second thought. My sister reported that her German freunden used the informal Ami.

Too bad we and the rest of the world don’t pay Deutschlanders the same consideration. No other country’s name (in my limited store of knowledge) is mangled overseas more than Deutschland. The French, Spanish, and Arabs call the country after the Alamanni tribe. The Finns call it Saksa after the Saxons. And the majority of the world, from Anglophones to Hindi speakers to Somalians, derive their designator from the Latin name for the region: Germania. (I have never read that Germans are put off by this, but they should be by the Lakota Sioux, whose word for Germany translates to “bad speaker land.”) Only the Swedes, Danes, Dutch, Norwegians, and Icelanders — interestingly, all linguistic neighbors to Germany — choose to honor the natives’ choice of country name with their own versions of Deutschland.

Wait, there’s one more people who get it right, or try to — the Chinese. Their name for Germany is de guo (德国), which literally translates to “Deutsch country,” but sounds like “land of virtue.” Ausgezeichnet!

 Otto E. Mezzo

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_Germany

At -ese (A diversion on demonyms)

I always wondered why people and things from China and Japan are Chinese and Japanese, and not, say, Chinan and Japanian. As someone with Chinese ancestry, the word in English always had an exotic ring – a foreign ring. Growing up, none of my contemporaries in Virginia were an -ese. They were French, British, Irish, German, Swedish, Italian, Mexican, or African. Chinese and Japanese stood out, and when you’re a kid, that’s bad.

The suffix -ese still has an alien ring to my ears, which may be why the writers of Star Trek chose Klingonese as the demonym as opposed to Klingonian or Klingonite. Even Portuguese has an otherworldly air, even though it’s a kissing cousin to Spanish. Certainly Togolese and Congolese, which follow no orthographic logic in their formation, describe to me dense, inscrutable people.

But the origins of the suffix ­-ese are not so exotic to European folk. They come to English (as so many words do) from the French ­­-aise. Examples: Lyonnaise, hollandaise, and mayonnaise. No American is going to call mayonnaise exotic.

Thinking of demonyms for people from China brings up a suffix I didn’t cover last time: –man. Chinaman once carried the same neutral color as Englishman or Frenchman, only to gain its offensive tone the more it was spat instead of spoken. As you can see, what’s interesting about Chinaman is that it adds the ­-man suffix to an unmodified place name instead of the descriptor demonym. Chineseman would be more consistent. Of course, this is all before we get to the possible controversies of using “man” to describe both men and women. So a man from Man (the Isle) is a Manxman. But so is a woman from Man.

 Otto E. Mezzo

Setting a new record

I received an email solicitation recently. This is how the sender described her company (name redacted to protect the clichéd):

********* is a disruptor on the professional services arena. We leverage the latest technologies and methodologies in the digital and cognitive space to help organizations transform in every aspect.

Four lexicides! That has to be a new record. Now if I could just figure out what this company does.

— Otto E. Mezzo

On Demonyms, Part C (for Correspondence)

In response to Part 1, I received this message from loyal reader Eddie, who writes:

The post includes my favorite, Liverpudlian. I frequently add a fake -pudlian suffix to identify people from other cities.

I have lived in Greensboro for a couple of years and still have no idea what the proper demonym for city residents is. So I call them Greensburgers. I also like to use -villain (not -villian) for residents of -villes.

As we discussed last month, many demonyms derive from ancient place names. The pool in Liverpool is from the Old English for pool or (cognate coming!) puddle. Another example gets folks scratching their heads is Haligonian. Not so dense when you realize Halifax is derived from halig faex, Latin for “holy hair.” Only, it turns out that’s a folk etymology. But the demonym stuck.

As I responded to Eddie, “-burgers” is etymologically appropriate for -boro, -borough, -burg, and -burgh demonyms, since they all mean “city” and a burger is a “resident of a city.” Villain, interestingly, is also derived from a word for “city” (French ville), but its actual meaning is “someone from the sticks,” or more accurately, a villanus (farmhand) who worked on a villa.* I don’t know who decided to equate hearty country yokels with villainy, but hey – I don’t make the rules.

Eddie continues:

For places with City in the name (Elizabeth City, NC; Ocean City, MD, etc.), Citizen has a much nicer ring than Citian, in my opinion.

That brings up a good question: what do you call someone from Oklahoma City? If Eddie had his way, they would be Oklahoma Citizens. But seriously, what are they called?

 Otto E. Mezzo

* Villas could be stately plantations, around which villages grew, hence ville (city).

From StraightNorth.com: 150 Business Jargon Fixes

When business writers resort to business jargon, it’s because they lack the time, creative energy or subject mastery to find a more exact word or phrase. 

No truer words have ever been spoken. While Lexicide has explored the far reaches of English language word usage, we started off decrying lazy, jargony, incorrect business writing. This article sums up 150 of the most common clichés in the workplace. We’ve covered awesome, bleeding edge, epic, evangelist, (most) unique, incentivize, leverage, utilize, and out of pocket. But what made me laugh in this piece was how many of these hoary expressions we use at my workplace. Not a meeting goes by without a deep dive and a granular drill down to mission critical action items at the end of the day.

Enjoy. https://www.straightnorth.com/company/marketing-resources/150-business-jargon-fixes/

On Demonyms (Part II)

In July, we started down the path to demonyms, beginning with your comments. But your comments, they’re only the beginning.

One question a number of commenters asked is “how are demonyms formed?” Why do some place names get -ian, others ­-ese, and still others ­-ish? That’s a good question, and like so many other orthographic oddities in English, the answer is unsatisfying. Basically, because English.

For example, Gary asked where the demonyms Mancunian and Glaswegian (for, respectively, Manchester and Glasgow) came from. Manchester is simple. Its old Roman name was Mancunium. That name was (supposedly) adapted from the native Celtic name for the locale, which was then further Latinized by adding ­-chester, which means “fort.” The suffix ­-chester is sometimes Anglicized -caster, as in place names like Doncaster or Lancaster – there one can see where our word castle derives.

And that’s Latin for you. In fact, this dead language probably has more influence on demonyms than any other. The suffixes –an­ and -ian are Latin. Wait, let’s list as many suffixes as we can:

-an/ian/anian/onion
-ard
-asque/esque
-ene
-egian
-eño
-er
-ese/-aise
-i
-ic
-ish
-ite

Notice something? With two exceptions, every one of those suffixed is Latin-derived. ­­-An and its variants was the most common Roman designator. –I designated tribes (for example, the Helvetii in Switzerland). All the others come from French or Spanish. Except or ­-er and -ite, from German and Greek, respectively.

That brings us back to Glaswegian. The etymology of Glasgow is pretty murky (because Scottish). The best anyone can say is that Glasgow roughly means “the green place.” If that’s the case (and we’re not saying it is), it correlates to Norway (the North place) and Galway (the place those crazy residents call Gaillimhe, because Irish), whose residents are – ready? Norwegians and Galwegians.

Wait, Otto, that makes no sense. For your analog to mean anything, Glasgow should be Glasway. It’s not.

Did I mention they were Scottish?

 Otto E. Mezzo

P.S. Yes, I will wrap this up next month.

 

 

Hey Girl

Fact: 90% of those who use “cognitive” guilty of 0% cognition

Big news broke today: Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong film deliberately omits the planting of the US flag on the Sea of Tranquility. But that fact itself is not the news. It’s Gosling’s quotation:

“So I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero… I’m Canadian, so might have cognitive bias.” 

Unlike Gosling, I am not a psychologist. No, I don’t know if the former Mouseketeer is one either, but he must be, because not many outside the psychology field have occasion to speak of cognitive biases, which, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, are defined as:

Systematic pattern[s] of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment.

Whatever that means. Here’s a better definition from Chegg.com (an online textbook site):

Mistake[s] in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.

What a cognitive bias is not is a preference, affinity, or plain old bias based on your nationality. But why admit bias when cognitive bias sounds so much more high-minded?

Lex, who works in bioinformatics (and who studied artifical intelligence and neuroscience) also complained to me about the way his colleagues use cognitive dissonance. No, his colleagues are not brain scientists or behavioral therapists. They’re programmers. And no, they don’t mean the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. (That’s a little better, Wikipedia.) Here’s what they mean:

Want to experience cognitive dissonance? Try reading George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” while visiting Catalonia. (Macomb Daily)

However, when a heuristic fails and the player’s character dies, they experience cognitive dissonance between what they thought was going to happen and what actually happened. For a Fortnite player, this may be because they were hit by a sniper in what they thought was a secret hiding spot. (The Guardian)

Hey, that one’s relevant and all. Look, kids!

Or this one, from Jezebel, titled My Pussy Is on a Journey of Self-Discovery (yes, it’s SFW):

The cognitive dissonance created by her freshly shorn bod supporting an Elizabethan neck ruff made of soft fur is gone. 

So just as cognitive bias is just a fancy word for biascognitive dissonance is a high-falutin’ way of saying dissonance, or to put it in even more prosaic terms, Whoa! Didn’t expect that!

But you should. Studies show 90% of people you meet think their vocabulary is more learned than it really is. And that’s a fact.

See also: Impedance mismatch

 Otto E. Mezzo, suggested by Lex

P.S.: Yes, I know I promised to elaborate on demonyms this month. Enjoy the cognitive dissonance.

References (lots of ’em!):

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2018/08/29/first-man-neil-armstrong-film-fails-fly-flag-us-patriotism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias

https://www.chegg.com/homework-help/definitions/cognitive-bias-13

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

https://www.macombdaily.com/opinion/sleepwalking-into-nationalism/article_cecfa7e8-292a-5989-8089-000b32226519.html

https://www.theguardian.com/games/2018/aug/29/why-cant-people-stop-playing-fortnite

https://jezebel.com/my-pussy-is-on-a-journey-of-self-discovery-1828703930

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect