Sticks and stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me. As kids, whether we were boys or girls, our parents would always tell us words could never hurt us. No matter what those pesky kids were saying to you in the playground, they were just words. But when it comes to gender, there are some significant differences.

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Being a girl I can think of hundreds of insults that would make me wince. However, if I ever found myself in an argument with a man, I would need a few tactical minutes, as well as access to a thesaurus before I could come up with any insults that would be deemed actually offensive.

‘Bitch’, ‘whore’, ‘slut’ and even a personal favourite of mine ‘tart’ are just to name a few derogatory terms for women. Obviously the running theme here is a woman’s sexual behaviours. Whether they are or are not any of the latter, these insults are still deemed highly offensive to all types of women. However, strangely, if I were to recycle these same insults on a man, it would more likely be deemed a compliment as oppose to an insult. In fact if anything it would probably be an ego boost rather than anything else. So why is this? Why is labelling a woman based on her sexual behaviour deemed offensive but when it comes to men it has the complete opposite affect?

After having a long hard think about what words I would use to insult a man, these are the ones a came up with ‘girl’, ‘pussy’ ‘son of a bitch’ and ‘grow some balls’. Are we all seeing this theme? All of these emasculating words are reducing a man to being compared to a woman. So does this mean I have I cracked the code? It appears that in order to really get men where it hurts, we must compare them to a women, which seems to make them really cry like a little girl.

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Pitch Perfect

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When it comes to questions, we all want one answer; how do we actually know it’s actually a question? When asking them there are often obvious pointers to suggest that it is a question, such as ‘do you’ or ‘shall we’, which helps the listener to know that an answer is required. However, not all questions are followed by these little pointers. In English we have a more subtle way of inferring a question, with a change in pitch.

When asking a question, it is extremely common that our pitch rises at the end of the sentence. In fact if the pitch does not change we are often confused as to what type of sentence it is- do we need to give an answer or just awkwardly laugh and pretend we know what’s going on?
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An experiment was undertaken by John Gumperz into this rise of pitch, and he discovered what happens when things go wrong. It was an experiment about miss cultural communication, and gravy. The experiment took place in London’s Heathrow airport, typically famous for delayed flights and lost baggage, not so much their gravy, but here we are. It was an observation between two groups of staff, the newly employed cafeteria assistants, of whom a large proportion were from India and Pakistan, and the baggage handlers, whom were mostly English. It was obvious that tension was rising between the two groups and they both found one another extremely rude. After recording the conversations Gumperz discovered a tiny yet astonishing factor. He found that it was all down to the word ‘gravy’.
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He found that when the word ‘gravy’ was said by the new cafeteria assistants there was no rising intonation, in fact there was a falling intonation. This led the baggage handlers to assume they were making a statement instead of a polite question. Interestingly, although they were both speaking the same language, such tiny factors such as pitch, were affecting the meaning. So next time you’re getting your gravy, remember to it with a pinch of salt, because sometimes things are not always overtly obvious.

Idioms in a nutshell

Idioms. What are they and where did they come from? Idioms are words and phrases that are identifiable to native speakers. They are phrases that mean something different from it literal meaning but no one really knows why it means what it does.
So it is at this point in the blog post where we take a deeper look into the meaning of idioms in English. I wish I was able to provide the hard facts about their origin, but the truth is, honestly no one really knows. So I can only go by assumptions. So remember to take all these explanations with a pinch of salt (sorry I couldn’t resist).
‘Pulling someone’s leg’
To pull someone’s leg means to tease or joke with the person. But how does pulling someone’s leg and a having joke have any correlation whatsoever? Well, historically, robbers often pulled at their victim’s legs to trip them up in order to then rob them which could be seen as misleading or tricking the person into thinking one thing, but doing another. So we can thank the Victorian crooks for this well used phrase.
‘Riding shotgun’
We all know the rule, first person to see the car can rightly call shot gun. This phrase has a bit of a darker meaning to what it is modernly used for. Back in the Wild West, whoever were to call shotgun would in fact carry a shotgun to protect himself and the driver from any potential enemies.
‘Bite the bullet’                                                                              bite-bullet-25667921
Go on just bite the bullet and do it. A phrase that often comes up in conversation but I’ve bet you’ve never stopped and thought about the meaning. In the 1800s, patients would literally bite on a bullet to cope with the pain of having surgery before anaesthesia.
‘Spend a penny’
Also known as using the toilet. Brits like to use this term to defer away from the actual meaning of the phrase and make it appear politer. This rather interesting one originates from Victorian Britain in which it cost one penny to use a public toilet. This was only implemented on women’s toilets, which may explain why the phrase is often used by women.
‘Feeling slightly under the weather’
Of course we all know this phrase is used to mean unwell. But the etymology of this phrase is one slightly unexpected. The phrase was originally used when sailors were feeling seasick. They would settle underneath the deck which would protect him from the harsh weather conditions causing the sickness. So the sailor was literally under the weather.
‘Caught red handed’
To be caught in the act. This originates from old  untitled3English law in which it was illegal to butcher any animal other than your own. The perpetrator could only be convicted is if he was caught with the animals blood still on his hands.
‘Let your hair down’
This final idiom comes from the aristocratic women of medieval times who were obliged to have their hair pulled up in an elegant manner. The only time they would “let their hair down” was when they came home and relaxed.

The big debate

Nature VS Nurture, the age long debate. Is language innate or is it learnt? This is the question hot on everyone’s lips, but no one can seem to find a logical answer.

I want to start by explaining both sides of the argument fairly, so sit down, and listen up.

As it was introduced first, I’ll begin with the Nurture argument; a theory introduced by BF Skinner. Skinner argued that parents can be held 100% accountable for the acquisition of language. He pioneered the idea that children are born with a ‘blank slate’ and can effectively be susceptible to any influence. I mean we’ve all been there, thinking we’re being really sneaky dropping a swear word into conversation as if they won’t notice, but next thing you know your mum’s getting a letter home from the head mistress because little Jimmy’s been calling everyone in his class a big fat twat. This kind of example really is enough to demonstrate how much kids do pick up from us.

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So along came Chomsky. Who found himself in the academic limelight shortly after publishing a book that ripped Skinner to shreds. Unlike Skinner, Chomsky believed that not all language can be learnt. He believed that we are born equipped with preloaded devices in our brains, which help us magically acquire language. His argument to support this was; unless children have an innate knowledge of grammar, they would not be able to acquire language at the rapid pace that they do. I mean to be fair I sometimes struggle with English and I’ve been speaking it for 22 years and have a degree in it, so I reckon we should cut the little rascals some slack.

He continued to shit all over Skinner with more and more evidence for this argument. He stated that if language was learnt, why would children make the common mistakes of, ‘sheeps’ instead of sheep and ‘ranned’ instead of run. If children were mimicking the parent’s speech, then they would get these correct first time, but instead they’re making their own unique grammatical errors.

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But like any good bitch fight, Linguists responded to Chomsky by asking the question, how would the acquisition device be able to decipher which grammar was correct for a given language and the argument went on and on and on. To which we find ourselves here, still with the unanswered question. So maybe we’ll never know the scientific answer and this will remain one of the greatest mysterys of all time.

How to be a social butterfly

I’m not sure if you’ve ever wondered how to have the perfect conversation, but if you have, then roll up; roll up because I’ve got the recipe for a perfect conversation.

According to Grice’s Conversational Maxims 1975, these are the four secrets on how to be the most social butterfly at the party.

1) Quantity
This is basically what it says on the tin. Don’t talk too much but also don’t talk too little. You don’t want to be that guy who’s trying to tell a story about snorkelling in Spain but before he can get to the point, has to explain everyone’s diatery requirements, shoe size and what they had for breakfast. On the same note, you don’t want to be that twat that thinks he’s competing in the world championship of the ‘yes and no’ game and is incapable of producing absolutely any other response.

2) Quality
Like your mum always told you, tell the truth. This one might seem like a bit of an odd one, but it does really matter. Imagine trying to have a conversation with someone and all the information they told you was false. Quite frankly you’d piss everyone off and would be a waste of their time. So don’t be a Billy bullshit because I promise you, no one will want to talk to you.

3) Manner
Avoid ambiguity. Be brief. Be orderly.

4) Relation
Remember what you’re talking about and stay on topic. If you are joining a conversation with a group of people, it’s not all about you. You must remember not to dictate the conversation to be about what interests you. If you do happen to be a narcissist then at least try and make a loose connection, for example; if the conversation is about Australia you could mention how your Auntie’s pet poodle was imported from Sydney, which could then allow you to turn the conversation onto you. But if you want a top tip from a non-expert, don’t do that.

Of course we are all human and like breaking the rules, we are all capable of either violating or flouting them. Make yourself aware of them so you can try to avoid them.

According to Grice, violation of these maxims is done covertly, so that no one in the conversation knows this is happening. Let’s use any previous Prime Minister as a good example. Often when being interviewed they are accused of being economical with the truth. This would be violating the maxim of Quality.

Flouting the maxims is often done on purpose. Typically a female trait, when we say one thing but mean another; like when he asks us what we want for our birthday and we say nothing, obviously we don’t actually mean that. In this situation the speaker is intending the hearer to infer some extra meaning over what is actually being said. A better example of this may be Grice identifing a difference between sentence meaning and utterance meaning, so the speaker could reply ‘yes’ when asked if they are okay, but their utterance may infer something otherwise.

So there we have it. 4 magic rules to the perfect conversation and 2 ways to break them. Happy socialising

A matter of time

Since the dawn of time humans have evolved. In fact, if it wasn’t for evolution, we wouldn’t exist like we do now.  We’d still be walking on all fours and picking bugs from each others backsides. 

Being the intelligent creatures we are, we soon realised that we needed a more intelligible form of communication, which pioneered the evolution of speech. It began with simple sounds but then came the need for words. Fast forward a couple of million years and we find ourselves still in the mist of an evolution.

When it comes to words, we decide what we need to survive and we eliminate anything deemed unnecessary. If we decide there is no use for a word, then why would it ever exist in our language? It would be futile. Similarly, if there is a word that no longer has a purpose, it falls out of use and we adapt our vocabulary to survive without it. 

Interestingly, when we find a concept that we highly respect, we create a billion and one words and phrases to describe it. In Western culture this can be demonstrated by the concept of time. We have countless words and phrases to describe time, but more specifically lack of it.

‘Time ran away with me’
‘Time flies when you’re having fun’
‘In the nick of time’
‘Time will tell’

Time is one of the most common nouns in the English Language. This can tell you an awful lot about a society and what makes them tick. We are constantly clock watching and our days are determined by appointments, meetings and deadlines – all concepts that are consumed by time.

We should look at some tribes in the world that have no words for time. Their day to day tasks don’t revolve around watching the clock. They don’t need to be at work for 9am, or meet for bottomless brunch at 2pm. They simply hunt and eat. So if someone asked them to bring the salmon back by mid-afternoon they most definitely wouldn’t understand. Obviously different societies have different ways of life, which is what makes society so utterly diverse and if we were to get rid of the concept of time, things most definitely wouldn’t tick along smoothly.

A good example of miscommunication between cultures would be when I was in Bali. I requested for a taxi to pick us up from our hotel at ‘half past 9’. The lady behind the desk smiled polity with a confused look painted across her face. ‘I’m sorry I don’t understand’ she responded. Because in balinese they don’t have a quarter of an hour, or a half of an hour, just simply. 15 or. 30. because similarly to the tribes previously mentioned, it doesn’t dominate their society, because of this they are recognised for their relaxed laid back nature. 

Maybe we should take a leaf out of their book. Would society go into complete chaos or would we find something a bit more rewarding to focus our time on?

English as the dominant language

I’m going to start off with a post in which I talk about English as a global language. So it’s common knowledge that travellers always shy away from talking about their travelling, therefore it will probably come as a shock that we’re not even one paragraph deep

and I’m already about to mention it. So in short, I’ve just returned from two months gallivanting. We travelled Thailand, Bali and Australia, and it opened my eyes to a lot of things about our language. Even when on the other side of the world, I couldn’t help but ignore the fact that English was EVERYWHERE. We never once found ourselves in a situation where we were unable to communicate, because everyone spoke English. From products in the supermarket to signs on the highway, we had no excuse to become confused or lost, (but just because we didn’t have an excuse, didn’t mean it didn’t happen).

When travelling I try not to be a typical ignorant Brit and TRY, emphasis on the try, to pick up some of the native language where I can. Obviously in Thailand this proved extremely difficult and I only managed to pick up Hello and Thank-you. However, whenever I tried to confidently slip it in conversation, I found that the most popular response was that of laughter. I shortly found out this was because Thai is in fact a tonal language, and thank-you in one pitch, means something very different if uttered in another pitch. I never found out what exactly it did mean, but I did mange to pick up on the fact that it might be something rather ill-mannered.

Of course I was aware that English is a global language, but I didn’t realise to what extent. Even more surprising to me, after partaking in tours or activities, we were kindly asked to ‘rate the tour guides English’. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but why the heck are we being asked to rate their English? If anything they should be asked to rate our Thai, even though I’d have received a big fat 0.

This really highlighted to me how as a nation we have such superiority over a lot of the worlds countries, and evidently with superiority comes linguistic influence. This is because in many countries there is a close link between English and knowledge. The catalyst for this thinking can be explained by factors such as, media, economics and trade as English speaking countries commonly dominate these influences.

So next time you’re booking your luxury holiday to the Phi Phi Islands or Bali just remember how lucky you are to be native in a language that holds no limits.

Just your bog standard blog