Feuilles volantes

While waiting in the basement for the washing machine to finish, I picked up a book from the open boxes stacked under the stairs, the remainder of our unpacking from … almost two years ago *gulp*. The book was a well foxed paperback of Victor Hugo’s Choses vues, a sort of memoir of major and minor events from 1830 to 1846. On a whim I riffled the pages, looking for today’s date, and got a hit within seconds — and what a great one for a language lover:

At a meeting of the Académie Française held on this day 168 years ago, the members, or immortels, were discussing spelling reform (dropping double consonants so as to give ateindre instead of atteindre), and whether to bow to current usage. This was odd even then, for the Academy normally resists changes to the language, especially those from common usage. Hugo confessed his ignorance of such usage — indeed it is pretty odd — and refused to accept the idea. Fellow academician Victor Cousin responded by suggesting that such changes were part of the natural shift of language, which always tends towards decline.

Hugo replied:

“I would add that language shift and decline are two different things. […] Since its very first day, language has been in motion; can we say that it has been in constant decline? […]”

Cousin: The decline of the French language began in 1789.

Hugo: A quelle heure, s’il vous plaît ?

Boo-Yah! In! Your! Face!

It’s refreshing to read how pompous egos could be so neatly slapped down in 1843; and if he was around today, Hugo would be a regular guest on the Daily Show and Colbert Report.

Meanwhile, the Académie Française is still fighting a rearguard battle against any perceived threats to the French language. After the fight against franglais in the 1990s (software => logiciel, email => courriel), the Academy more recently protested the inclusion of regional languages in the French constitution (Read more …)

*beep* *beep* *beep*

Laundry’s done. Back to work.

Future anterior

Here’s another neologism for you — premem — similar to my previous new word, and also triggered by one of my children. It means “pre-memory”, and while sounding like something out of a Philip K. Dick story, my meaning refers to a more intimate epiphany, one of those “golden moments” when you can already visualize, at the moment it occurs, the image as a memory in the future.

I think this photo captures the spirit of a premem, playing as it does on mimicking old technology (pinhole photography) and the kind of future memory I can imagine having of my child, overcoming fear through determination and pleasure-seeking.

Walking the wavebreaks

Postlapsarian PNP: After the fall from grace

The recent general election in Jamaica was a close run between the People’s National Party, in power for 18 years, and the Jamaica Labour Party. While at least one of the sixty seats remains to be decided by the courts, the JLP still managed to squeeze past the incumbents with a four-seat majority.

Politically motivated violence had been anticipated; in the event it was relatively peaceful, at least in comparison with the 800 deaths attributed to the infamous 1980 elections. One death stuck out, literally, in last month’s election: a JLP supporter stuck his head out of the party bus and was almost decapitated by bamboo growing by the roadside. Stupid behaviour, and worthy of a Darwin Award, but actually not at all surprising if you have ever seen buses carrying party supporters to a rally in Jamaica: there are more people on top of the bus than inside – not to mention those hanging from the outsides of the windows, or those sitting on the bonnet or hanging onto the radiator grill … The bus proceeds at top speed down the centre of the road, swerving violently in time to the beats from the monstrous sound system, which takes up more space inside than the passengers. It is an awesome sight, in the true meaning of the word.

My dear friend, the Reverend Dr Philip Phinn (read previously), had predicted a victory for the ruling party. Alas, his divine gift of prophecy failed yet again.

I took a more prosaic approach to predicting the winners and losers by using anagrams of names.

Here are the best results

BRUCE GOLDING (leader of the JLP, now Prime Minister)
Budge con girl – an eminently respectable goal

or

Boring cudgel – True, Bruce is no Portia when it comes to rabble-rousing

or

Glib con urged – a comment on the huge investment in a media blitzkrieg. I particularly liked the ambiguous slogan, “Be apart of the change”, used in one of the many JLP TV ads (watch ad on YouTube).

Adding “MR” to his name gives us the more sensational
Cold, murdering B.G.

From the other side, PORTIA SIMPSON MILLER (now former Prime Minister), gives us
A missioner pimp troll – a savage comment on her getting too cuddly with religious crackpots

or

Interim liar pomp loss – The only Prime Minister never to have been elected. For “Liar”, see YouTube vid link above. And yes, she did enjoy travelling in high style when she went “a farrin” (overseas).

SIMPSON MILLER produces the pithier
No slimmer lips

or

Smell imprison

My favourite anagrams, however, are generated by the now former Minister of Information, Donald Buchanan. He seemed to be the only member of the Government that spoke to the public and the media, relaying matters from other ministries and defending the party from any criticism. Unfortunately, he was also the most antipathetic person you could imagine as the Government mouthpiece: at his daily press conferences, he would slump forward on his desk, wearily reading from a sheaf of papers, occasionally peering up over his glasses to cast a withering glance over his audience – he oozed total disdain and resentment towards his questioners.

Anagrams of MR DONALD BUCHANAN give a possible insight into the man behind the frown:

Dubland anchorman

or

Hardbound clan man

or

Nonhuman bald card

or even

Bad man, unclad horn

Just in case you take my anagrammatical musings too seriously, note that MS RIA BACON is only

A minor scab

Two cultures clash

Talk of banning the “dance of death” is still doing the rounds here in Kingston, or at least it was this morning at the hairdresser’s. The dance in question is of course the “Dutty Wine”. In a country where new dance moves pop up every week, the Dutty Wine has shown unusual endurance since its first attributed appearance in Montego Bay early this year. Its combo moves of butterfly knees, twisting neck and whirling weave is not particularly “dirty”, yet it has become the most popular dance for years. Check out some of the 2,000+ examples on YouTube.

The dance hit the mainstream, or middle class, consciousness some ten days ago when it was cited as the cause of death of a young woman.

The popular “Dutty Wine” dance is being blamed for yesterday’s death of an 18-year-old St. Catherine woman.

Tanisha Henry was attending a “school uniform” party at Beacon Hill, Thompson Pen, about four o’clock Sunday morning when, while doing the popular dance, she collapsed and was rushed to the nearby Spanish Town Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

When The Gleaner checked with the institution, a representative said persons have for some time been warned of the dangers associated with the dance, but that no one seems to have taken heed.

[…]

“If you throw the body in extreme positions, as in the case of the ‘Dutty Wine’, you could have muscle trauma, damage to your ligaments and shifting in bones,” [said] Dr. Jephthath Ford, general practitioner.

[…]

“It is a warning to young people that dem mus stop du de Dutty Wine,” said one woman who called the incident a curse on the land. “Is like a demon sen’ from de pit a hell dat is taking the lives of the youth even before dem have time to repent.”
Source: The Gleaner

My reckoning is that the woman probably hit her head on something as a result of dizziness, as seen in the above video clip, around 01:50. But who am I to argue with a doctor named “Jephthath”?

What has struck me more in the days since the death is the obvious division in cultures between the middle class, educated newspaper journalists, and the semi-literate dancehall fans. The remove is such that some were not even aware of the song and dance until the recent death. The response is suitably indignant:

[I]t is incredible how the Dutty Wine song managed to stay on top of the music charts for 13 weeks without being pulled by the broadcasting commission, or without being the subject of protest by the teachers union, the church, the prime minister’s office, the moral authority, Greg Christie [Office of the Auditor General, aka Mr Clean], the opposition, the ministry of welfare, the child care and protection agency, Jamaicans for Justice, the police commissioner’s office, the PTA of any school, any columnist or anyone else for that matter.
Source: Jamaica Observer

In terms of reference and expression, the culture clash is fascinating. In the first corner we have this type of writing:

Should Dutty Wine be banned? First of all, there needs to be some care in assessing cause and effect. A man jogs briskly down the street, collapses and dies. There may be a sense in which the jogging may be said to have caused his death, but this, by itself, would be a far too simplistic conclusion. And the mere fact that the death followed the brisk jog does not mean that the jogging had anything to do with his death: post hoc ergo propter hoc is not really helpful in this case.
Source: The Gleaner

In the other corner we have:

A DIS THIS WRIGHTER A TRY DISRESPECT JAMAICAN MEN AND WOMEN AN U CAN GET INTOUCH WITH HIM AN TELL HIM JAMAICA SAY HIM FE GO S*K HIM SELF IN AN INTELLIGENT WAY, I HATE JAMAICANS LIKE THIS PERSON U R QUOTING,THEY R LIKE THE WHITE TRASH WHITE PEOPLE IN SOCIETY WHO LIKE TO PUT PEOPLE DOWN AND THEY R NO BETTER THAN MY SHOE BOTTOM. SHOW OFF,STUSH,ACT LIKE THEY R SMARTER THAT ALL,AN SHAMEFULL OF THERE CULTURE,WE R JAMAICAN AND WE DONT DO TO PLEASE PEOPLE WE DO TO PLEASE OUR SELF, IN OTHER WORDS WE DONT WATCH FACE WE CREAT FACES TO WATCH US CUT AN GO THROUGH IN LIFE,EVERY BODY WANT A PAGE OUT OF OUR BOOKS JAMAICAN PEOPLE THAT IS, BUT OUR PAGES R NOT REMOVABLE BY PAGONS AND PARASIGHTS, LIKE THE WRIGHTER OF THIS DESRESPECTFULL ARTICLE U POST,HE TALK OF US AS IF WE R THE WORST ANIMAL LIVING ON EARTH, AND IF U CHECK HIS LIFE STYLE HE IS MOST LIKELY THE HYENA OF US ALL, AN WE ALL KNOW HOW DISGUSTING AND COWARD THE HYENA IS.
Source: Yardflex.com

Is one write and the other indubitably erroneous?

I’ll leave that for you to comment on.

For my part, I’ll leave you with an uptown contribution to a fourth verse of Tony Matterhorn’s smash version of “Dutty Wine”.

[audio:Tony Matterhorn – Dutty Wine (Smash riddim).mp3]

Attitude Gal
One of dem, two of dem
See the crew of dem, I will wine dem
Could a three a dem, could a four a dem
Even more of dem, I will grind dem
See the whole of dem, see di whole a dem … friends (whole a dem friends)
Pack up mi gyal … dutty wine … eehh
So what dem a say
All right now

Verse
Me step inna di club, a dance rub a dub
An di gyal a come wine up on me
Mi stan so tall back against the wall
And now she start climb up pon me
Its kind a likkle trickie, I’m checking out Nikki
When you know say time is up on me
The way di gyal a wine is like the breeze a blow
But it hot and the sun shine on me

Chorus
Di dutty wine, my girl, dutty wine (whoa)
Di dutty wine, my girl, dutty wine (ray)
Di dutty wine, my girl, dutty wine (lawd)
Dutty wine, my girl, mix it up now
Di dutty wuk, my girl, dutty wuk (ray)
Di dutty wuk, my girl, dutty wuk (laad)
Di dutty wuk, my girl, dutty wuk (whoa)
Watch di gyal dem a do di dutty wuk (aye)

Verse
Bend your back and lift your head up
Turn side way, lift your leg up
Bend your face and twist it up
And turn true side like you know you fed up (Whoa)
Turn roun like you know rose duck
Spin aroun cause you know how fi wuk
Lift it up back, then you breast it up
Back it up, cock it up, my girl dutty wuk

Chorus
So, do di dutty wuk, do di dutty wuk
Watch all di gal deh a do di dutty wuk (Attitude)
Di dutty wuk, do di dutty wuk
Attitude gal a do di dutty wuk

Verse
So f***in inna wata, f***in inna sea
F***in inna bushes, and f***in inna tree
If you f*** pon di bed your not f***ing me
F*** pon di floor, f*** pon di tv
F*** pon di dresser, and bruk up figurine
F*** pon di fan, no gyal no finga me
When mi see di hot gyal dem dat a trigga me
F*** any where, let f*** be free

So, could a one a dem, could a two a dem
Send the crew of dem, I will grind dem
Could a three a dem, and if a four of dem
Send more a dem, I will wine dem
Any way dem deh, any way dem deh
Any way dem deh, Mota will find dem
Just to wine up pon di gyal yah
Look at di gyal dem a wine
Sit down pon it now

Verse
Quid fit? Quid fit?
Modo fac! Modo fac!
Te audire no possum! (Musa sapientum fixa est in aure.)
Heus, hic nos omnes in agmine sunt!
Fac ut gaudeam.
Quid fit? (Osculare pultem meam!)
Quid fit? (Subucula tua apparet.)
Quid fit? (Id tibi praebet speciem lepidissimam!)
Quid fit? (Capillamentum? Haudquaquam conieci esse!)
Apudne te vel me? (Di, ecce hora! Uxor mea necabit!)

Mi a wicked! He-he-he!

Writing wrongs

Taking a break from the political meltdown here in Jamaica, I got a tip-off from a fellow editor in Rome about a new term for spellcheck mis-corrections: The Cupertino Effect.

The origin of the term, coined at the Language Log, is from the the common mistyping of “cooperation” as “cooperatino”. Bizarrely, certain spellcheckers offer “Cupertino” as a correction. Editors, being the lazy bums we are, don’t always re-read what we’ve edited, resulting in gibberish such as,

Could you tell us how far such policy can go under the euro zone, and specifically where the limits of this Cupertino would be? (European Central Bank press conference, 3 Nov. 1998)

Even more bizarre, and amusing, is the misspelling of “cumulation” as “comulation”, mis-corrected by spellcheck to … “copulation”. You can imagine the result …

The Western Balkan countries confirmed their intention to further liberalise trade amongst each other. They requested that they be included in the pan-european system of diagonal copulation, which would benefit trade and economic development. (International Organization for Migration, Foreign Ministers Meeting, 22 Nov. 2004)

[Read more, much more, at the Language Log]


On second thoughts, I’m going to get in a quick rant about the incompetents in office here: we had three power outages in the space of twelve hours today – I was cooking by the light of a hurricane lamp this evening. Why is it not possible to maintain a reliable electricity supply? I lived in Abidjan (you know the name from recent news) for a few years and never experienced such ramshackle management of public services.

And yes, I count myself lucky even with brown water coming out my taps most days. Can you believe that there are people in Jamaica who have not had any running water since the supply infrastructure was damaged by Hurricane (wait for it …) Gilbert … in 1988! There are children, now grown with their own children, who have never seen water running from their taps! [Read more …]

It’s obvious people are fed up with the rotten state of affairs, but will the discontent evident in newspapers and radio call-in shows be transformed into something more concrete?