I OD'd on Real Housewives of NYC

I'm going to admit this in public: yesterday I spent *way* too much time watching several episodes of The Real Housewives of New York City to the point of OD'ing on it. I stupidly watched all those episodes because there were a bunch that I missed from previous seasons, and they were being rerun on Bravo yesterday, so I figured since I had the time, I'd "take care" of them so I could move on. Sounds obsessive, but I wanted to put the missing story pieces together. Dumb and desperate :D

And I was back last night when I watched the newest episode, followed by a live segment. Yes, my brain was fried, and I heard shrill arguing and complaining in my head when I went to bed, constant NYC housewife chatter. They edit that show so that every conflict is caught, and what remains seems to be hyper babbling. It took me a while to get it all out of my head today as well.

And yes, I know the show is dumb, but it's probably one of the few cheesy shows I watch (though I despise The Real Housewives of New Jersey--way too sleazy and disturbing). But I definitely watched too much yesterday and I don't feel too good about it. I didn't watch any such TV today, so at least I redeemed myself.


Translate the Chinese bios

Sometimes I watch Taiwan Outlook, which is in English. I've never been to Taiwan, and unfortunately didn't take advantage of its close proximity to Japan when I was there. But I want to go sometime for sure.

The show is hosted by a guy who asks interesting, insightful questions, and his English is really good. But if the show is in English, and he can speak English well, why is his bio page in Chinese? We non-Chinese speakers can't read it, though I can see that he's studied law and got a PhD because those words are in English, along with a few other words.

I just can't believe that in that entire country/province (depending on how you define it), they can't find anyone who can translate his bio (or the other guy's bio--they have a "Host" link but it's meant to be plural even though the English is singular). I guess it's a good way to study Chinese, though you can also watch a live stream of that TV channel, so you can practice listening to and reading Chinese at the same time. It's just too bad this isn't all in Japanese, then it wouldn't annoy me so much :D


Resuming fiction

Since the beginning of this blog, I've been talking about writing, including fiction writing, because I've written a couple of novels (which aren't published, of course) while also writing on this blog. I eventually gave up a few years ago because I thought, "What's the point?! I'm never going to get published. It's a pipe dream!" Then I started writing for other people and pursuing radio stuff that was so consuming, I didn't have the brain power or room to try to write fiction.

Then recently, since the radio world isn't yielding much fruit, I started thinking about a story. And I started writing--by hand, on my computer, even on my cell phone (while I was waiting for a friend to show up for dinner--half an hour late, which gave me plenty of time to write).

The past couple of days I've been feeling drained and disappointed in my quest to attain dwindling radio opportunities, and today, after lying around to overcome a slight illness, I decided that I'm going to take that radio energy and put it into finishing yet another novel. It will be my third (or fourth--I've lost count over the years), and if nothing else, it will at least be a creative outlet and a way to use my mind productively.

I know that I'll be tempted to think, "Why am I wasting my time?!" or "This will never amount to anything!" But I'll take that chance--yet again. And maybe it will help me if not directly, then indirectly in another segment of life.

And I'm now using both Blogger and Facebook in Japanese :D


You can show off your jogging at the bowling if it's on your planning, but never play baby-foot in the pipi-room

French is beautiful, rich, and highly influential and has a reputation as one of the world's most romantic languages. However, there's one feature of French that never fails to irritate me: its ability to borrow English words and twist their meaning in a way to make them easily misunderstood by English speakers. It's the linguistic equivalent of borrowing a friend's car and turning it into a flowerbed.

This phenomenon is not limited to French and probably occurs in most languages that have borrowed from other sources. English is certainly also guilty of it. In the 1980s, if you asked for 'skor' (a Swedish word) in a Swedish shop, you would be handed a pair of shoes. If you asked for 'skor' in an American shop, you'd get a chocolate bar with toffee. Similarly, if you ask for a praline (or, more correctly, a "praliné") in France, you may get a sweet paste used to fill chocolates or even a small chocolate itself. If you ask for a praline in the United States, especially Louisiana, you'll get a chocolate-free treat consisting of pecans and caramelized sugar. It should be noted, though, that even in English, the definition of "praline" changes in different dialects, with British English retaining a meaning closer to the French source term.

In French, however, the contortion and distortion of English words (known as "faux anglicismes" or "false anglicisms") seem particularly widespread. And, to be fair, usually there is some logical connection somewhere between the English word in French and the English word in English, even if the connection isn't readily apparent, especially without context. A French-language inventories that lists "20 pulls" might befuddle an English speaker who does not speak French. A "pull" is a pullover or a sweater. Similarly, a reference to "20 smokings" might be equally confusing. It does not mean 20 cigarettes, cigars, or even smokers. It means 20 dinner jackets or 20 tuxedos, with the link being a contortion of the somewhat archaic English term "smoking jacket."

If a French article refers to "les people," it is not talking about the general public or about humanity, but specifically about celebrities (VIPs or very important people). If someone says he or she will send you a 'mail', don't wait for the letter carrier. A 'mail' in French is specifically an e-mail'. However, "mailing" refers to mass-mailings (which could involve the post) of materials to recipients. French speaker announces that he or she is going off in search of a "self," the individual is not embarking on a deep, existential journey. He or she is simply going to the nearest self-service restaurant. If a colleague tells you that you'll be picked up in a "car," it's not what you might think. A "car" in French is a bus or van.

A number of these "faux anglicismes" are formed using English gerunds, as exemplified by "smoking" above. Along those lines, if someone asks you for a "planning," the speaker is requesting a timetable or schedule. If someone is on the way to a "pressing," the person is headed to the drycleaner's. If a French couch potato talks about his or her "training" or "jogging," it probably isn't a lie. They both refer exclusively to an article of clothing known in English as a jogging suit or a tracksuit. "Bowling" doesn't refer to the sport of bowling, but rather to a bowling alley. By the same token, a "dancing" doesn't mean the act of dancing, but to a dance hall. "Shampooing" doesn't indicate the act of washing your hair but specifically "shampoo" (the product you use to wash your hair). And if a French person mentions "footing," he or she is talking about a hiking expedition.

Less frustrating are anglicisms that have been adopted in French and slightly altered, yet still understood, or may have retained the original English meaning but have become old-fashioned or outmoded in English. An example of the latter is "WC," which comes from the English expression "water closet" for a toilet. The word is alive and well in French, although in English it has largely fallen into disuse and often appears quaint or retro if used in English. The former may be illustrated by the French terms "shake-hand" and "talkie-walkie," which, respectively, mean "handshake" and "walkie-talkie" in English.

A list of these false cognates appears at Les faux anglicismes (website in French). It should be noted that in French-speaking Canada and other French-speaking countries outside France, these terms may not be used. The list also gives the date when each word entered the French language. Interestingly, yet not surprisingly, many of these terms entered French during the 20th century, a period marked by a dramatic increase in international travel and globalization.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


A successful, interesting nerd

I met a very cool, interesting, passionate guy who's definitely made the most out of his nerdiness to the point where he has an incredible career, makes good money, and speaks all around the world. And he's not a snob or arrogant at all. He didn't even get annoyed when I stopped by his office at Tribune Interactive to say "hello" and check out those fancy digs where other nerdy people make the most out of their brains :D

I interviewed him for my podcast, and he was so interesting and well-spoken, I ended up talking to him for quite a while, and posted all of it. I think we're going to see him a lot more in the media because he knows how to talk.

btw--His name is Brent Payne, aka the Bald SEO. Apparently, a ton of people know him in the SEO/computer/nerd world. Listen to the interview at this link (mp3 file).


Slag off

I found a really good relationship advice site that is obviously written by a Brit, because there are various phrases that I never hear in the US.

I was reading an interesting blog post over there, and came upon the phrase "slag off", which I've never used. According to Using English (a good resource for ESL teachers and learners), it means "criticize heavily", as in "I slagged her brochure off because the design was awful."

Maybe I should start using that phrase to see people's perplexed reactions :D


Good music to chill out to

When I want to unwind, like I do now, I listen to Groovera.com. There are three channels:

Jet City Lounge, "A fine mix of chilled instrumental future lounge, nu-jazz, groove jazz, downtempo, soft techno, brokenbeat, electro-bossa, deep house, and ambient house, with intermittent vocals."

Audio Popsicle, "An aficionado's mix of chilled adult alternative pop, future lounge, vocal downtempo, nu-jazz, ambient pop, trip-hop, neo-soul, synth pop, deep house, and a few surprise classics.

And the channel that I usually listen to, Low Mercury, "A deeply-chilled mix of instrumental downtempo, soft techno, chill-out, IDM, psybient, illbient, ambient dub, ambient techno, ambient house, nu-jazz, and an occasional vocal track."

I really appreciate the fact that they consistently offer good music.


My condolences to Poland today

I would like to offer my condolences to the people of Poland for the unbelievable tragedy that happened today: the tragic plane crash that killed their top leaders, who were on their way to Russia, where they were going to commemorate the Katyn Massacre. What a very sad irony.

I have some Polish students in my ESL class, and one of them bombed their test today. Maybe this is why. A lot of people are understandably upset.


Read some issues of Penny Magazine online

This is really cool: you can read some issues of Britain's Penny Magazine online! The first edition was published in 1832, where they said, "What the stage-coach has become to the middle classes, we hope our Penny Magazine will be to all classes — a universal convenience and enjoyment."

And here's what they said about the United States in 1835:
The possible destiny of the United States of America--as a nation of 100,000,000 freemen--stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, living under the laws of Alfred, and speaking the language of Shakespeare and Milton, is an august conception. Whey should we not wish to see it realized? America would then be England, viewed through a solar microscope--Great Britain in a state of glorious magnificence! How deeply to be lamented is the spirit of hostility and sneering which some of the popular books of travels have shown in treating of the Americans! They hate us no doubt, just as brothers hate, but they respect the opinion of an Englishman concerning themselves ten times as much as that of a native of any other country on earth. A very little humouring of meanour on the part of Englishmen, would work wonders, even as it is, with the public mind of the Americans.


When Right is Right

As many left-handed people can verify, this is predominantly a right-handers' world, with the prejudice ranging from lefties who were encouraged or forced to write with their right hands as children to lefties who must contend with can openers and refrigerator handles designed for right-handed people. For thousands of years, the "left" has been considered by western societies, and a number of non-western societies, to be "inferior to the right." Somewhat anecdotally:
First, let me say that the Latin word for left is sinister. The connection between the English word and the Latin word are obvious, but this reasoning breaks down when other languages are examined. Raymond...tells the following story: Roman priests/fortune-tellers used to point a square wooden frame towards the sky and thus watch birds fly by. If the birds came from the left (sinister), it meant trouble (sinister). If they came from the right (latin dexter if I remember well), everything was OK.

Raymond...also tells me that the French word "sinistre" means sinister with the obvious Latin root. Also, someone who is considered not skillful is called "gauche" (left) in French.

Rob Jordan...offers this explanation. It also has to do with shaking hands. It seems that one explanation for the origin of shaking hands (according to a Latin teacher at the high school I went to) is that people would shake hands on meeting to show that they didn't have a dagger (or similar weapon) in their (right) hand so they couldn't stab you right off as they met you. However if you were left handed, you could shake someone's hand (with your right hand) and still be able to effectively use your left hand to stab someone. Therefore left-handed people were considered
potentially more dangerous and "sinister".
The prejudice against the "left" has become ingrained in the English language. For instance, related to "right" (the direction), we have such positive terms "right" (as in correct), "upright," "right" (as in a "human right"), "upright", and "righteous," as well as "dexterous," and "dexterity" from the Latin "dexter," and "adroit" from French "droit" (right).

Few "complimentary" terms, in contrast, exist with connotations involving the "left." Instead, we have words such as the aforementioned "gauche" and "sinister," as well as "maladroit" ("not right"). While ambidextrous (with "dexter" as the root) means skilled with both hands, "ambisinistrous" (with "sinister" as the root) means "clumsy with both hands.

The anti-left bias is hardly restricted to English, and an extensive list of examples of negative words and terms related to the left or left-handedness in a wide variety of languages has been compiled at Wikipedia.

An exception, in a way, could be the political connotations of "left" and "right," depending on perspective. In English, as well as Spanish and a number of other languages, "left" and "right" tend to refer to liberal and conservative politics, respectively. To some, "leftist" or "left-wing" may be seen as insulting, whereas to others, "right-wing" may be pejorative.

It is curious that, in today's era of heightened linguistic sensitivities fueled by political correctness, the anti-left bias remains firmly intact.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)