I Love Collective Nouns

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Collective nouns are cool.  They add colour and flavour to the otherwise boring job of naming things.  Plus, once you get past the regular stuff like a herd of cattle, a flock of sheep, a pack of dogs etc., they get uber-creative.  I wanna meet the person who thought up “a parliament of owls.”  What kind of a mind can do that?  Or a cauldron of bats?  A prickle of porcupines?  And everybody’s favourite – a murder of crows?  I look at lemurs and think “cute little furry buggers” but somebody else thought “a conspiracy” and, yeah, they were right.  A group of lemurs huddled together look like they’re plotting something.  So, with that in mind, I thought I’d try my hand at creating collective nouns.  Some are more creative than others.

A treachery of politicians – This illustrates the lie/deny cycle of political life.

A scold of environmentalists – A fine label for the holier-than-thou attitude most of these people take.

A robbery of insurance companies – This one speaks for itself.

A congratulation of celebrities – No other group on this planet spends as much time telling each other just how “awesome” they are.

A labyrinth of lawyers – If you can’t get there from here, there’s always a lawyer hiding around the corner somewhere.

A necessity of police officers – Let’s face it!  Without the cops, the streets of most major cities would be a war zone.

A vocalization of vegans – Do you have any idea what these people don’t eat?  Oh, never mind: they’ve already told you – twice!

An annoyance of evangelists – Nothing is quite as big a pain in the ass as somebody interrupting your day to tell you that their God can beat up your God.

A tremble of university students – Here’s a group so fragile they need “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” just to make it through the day.

A lethargy of government workers – One government worker is no problem — but in a group … glaciers move faster.

A swindle of salesmen – Unfortunately, it’s always men who give this profession a bad name.

A tantrum of Twitter users – Once again, this speaks for itself.

A pharmacy of athletes – Professional athletes take a lot of “supplements” – a lot!

A trudge of tourists – What else would you call crowds of sober-faced 40-somethings, plodding through the streets, looking for art galleries, museums and monuments — day after day?

A disgrace of journalists – Once an honourable profession, as a group, these people haven’t done their job properly since Edward R. Murrow roamed the Earth.

A prance of parents – This group is particularly pleased with themselves — even though the vast majority of them are only parents because they let a Ryan Gosling movie get out of hand.

And finally:

A misery of millennials – These perpetual malcontents are constantly complaining about something.  And when they run out of ordinary stuff to whine about, they trot out their student loan.  God, people!  Give it a rest!  Nobody can be that unhappy.

Did I miss any?

Different Thoughts?

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Recently, a lot of very smart people have been quietly studying the next impossible question: which came first, language or culture?  Like the chicken and the egg conundrum – Uh, good luck solving that riddle — it does bring up an interesting concept.  Does language affect the way we look at the world?  Or, more precisely, do people who speak different languages think differently?

Wow!  This is a huge question that scholars are going to be pondering for years, but the simple answer is … yes.  Let me try to explain without sounding like some kind of philological fascist.

Every language has words that simply do not translate because every culture has concepts that don’t.  For example, the Hawaiian language has no word for “weather*.”  Why?  When your weather is consistently Paradise 2.0, you just don’t need an uncountable noun to describe it.  Meanwhile, in all Inuit languages, there are dozens of different words for snow.  They describe every variant imaginable in a world where survival depends on what kind of white stuff Mother Nature is throwing at you.  Both these linguistic imperatives make sense in their own neighbourhood, but they don’t to each other.  Hawaiians and the Inuit have totally different concepts of weather, and their language reflects that.

Likewise, every time I go to France, it takes me a couple of days to realize I’m not getting bad service in restaurants.  The problem is my concept of lunch is completely different from the French dejeuner.  The words mean exactly the same thing but … they aren’t.  In North America, we treat lunch as a necessary nuisance that’s done and gone, but in France it’s an important cultural ritual that can take a couple of hours.  Even though the words translate perfectly– one to one– they mean wildly different things.

But it’s not just cultural differences that influence language.

English has a ton of prepositions, but let’s just use “in” and “on.”  In Spanish, “in” and “on” are the same word: “en.”  Spanish speakers don’t differentiate.  They don’t think that way.

The Russians have a word “toska” which is kinda/ sorta,/maybe religious longing, but not really – uh — so much as a feeling of loss without knowing what is lost.  But you kinda have experience it to know what it feels like.

Hygge, fernweh and forelsket are also words that simply don’t translate into English.  It’s not that English speakers don’t have the same feelings as Danes, Germans or Norwegians; it’s just that we don’t think that way.

I don’t believe culture precedes language, but I do believe that, as a culture evolves, people simultaneously adapt their language to accommodate it.  Once that happens, the actual words tend to veer away from their objective meaning.  They get loaded up with information that’s specific to the speaker.  Words are the tools we use to express our thoughts, and sometimes those thoughts are incomprehensible to an outsider.  That’s why anybody who knows anything about language will tell you that to learn a language properly, you must first understand the culture.

 

*In contemporary usage, Hawaiians have borrow the Chinese word “huan” which loosely translates as change.

Lazy Words For Journalists

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English is an exact and beautiful language, rich with words that do so much more than just modify, identify or describe.  Unfortunately, it’s also full of tired old words that lazy people use because — well — uh — they’re probably journalists.  Honestly, journalists love lazy the way French pigs love truffles.  They’ll go out of their way to dig up the most hackneyed crap and spill it out onto the page.  Here are a few of these overworked gems.  When you find one of these little puppies — and you will — just walk away.  If journalism is a dying profession, these are the nails in the coffin

Bureaucracy — Coined in the early 19th century, by a Frenchman who didn’t like government (he also gave us laissez-faire) in the 21st century, bureaucracy means bad — full stop.  It’s like wearing a black hat in a 1950s Western.  The problem is journalists use “bureaucracy” the way rednecks use duct tape.  It’s an all purpose fix-it for whatever ails ya.  According to the media, government bureaucracy is the cause of all our problems– from the extra-long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles to the fat kid sitting on your sofa, playing video games.

Cyber-Anything — This is a double barreled word that journalists use to sound techno-savvy.  In actual fact, most journalists limit their digital experience to Google, Facebook and whatever’s trending on Twitter that day.  However, they believe that if they slap a suffix on “cyber,” it sounds as if they’re on the cutting edge of cool.  No!  Mostly, they just sound like cyber-dicks.

Anything-Gate — Another double-barreled word, this one is used to make mountains out of molehills.  Watergate was (and still is) the Holy Grail of media excellence, and journalists have been trying to reproduce it ever since.  Typing “gate” at the end of something gives journalists the idea that people will think they’re serious about their profession.  Here’s a news flash: not every mistake, misstep or misappropriation is the smoking gun that’s going to lead to a conspiracy worthy of Richard Nixon’s White House.  And, more importantly, most people realize if you were a serious journalist, you’d know the difference.

And speaking of evil:

Hitler — This word isn’t really about the guy with the funny moustache anymore.  It has become a measurement for politicians who disagree with The New York Times.  For example, Donald Trump was compared to Hitler before he ever got nominated, whereas George W. Bush had to actually get elected to make the grade.  Meanwhile, Barack Obama was well into his second term before he got hit with the H-word, but it didn’t matter because most of his fan club didn’t know who Hitler was, anyway.  In the future, all politicos will be rated by how long it takes New York journalists to make the comparison.

And finally, my favourite:

Politically Correct — These are the weirdest phrase in the English language.  First of all, to any thinking person, this is literally the worst term possible for a dumbass.  Politically correct people are so narrow minded they can look through a keyhole with both eyes.  However, because of that, no one ever admits to being politically correct.  Ask anybody:  politically correct is always somebody else’s fault.  Yet, even though the faith has no followers, there are tons of journalistic apologists out there, and they’re swearing on every holy book they don’t believe in  that they are not now — nor have they ever been — politically correct.  Personally, I think that’s why this particular brand of ignorance is still alive and thriving in our world.