Absent Absences And Tool-Breaking: On Language Inclusivity

by Jochen Szangolies

Figure 1: Sometimes, tools must be broken to unveil what is absent. Image credit: Peregrin.st, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s getting late, and your friends are leaving; however, you decide to linger for a bit at the bar, enjoying a last drink, perhaps quietly observing the people around you. As your gaze sweeps the room, it suddenly locks onto another’s, and your idle attention snaps into focus. You feel a strange fluttering sensation in your stomach intensifying as they hold your gaze, and your tentative smile is returned. Emboldened by the smile and the effect of the drinks before this ‘last’ one that will not remain the last, you move over and strike up a conversation. You end up leaving the bar together.

The following months are love and bliss. The harmony is effortless and immediate. Getting to know each other becomes intimacy, becomes familiarity. You move in together, pick out wallpaper and dishware, begin the work of crafting a life together.

But in the end, it doesn’t last. Small irritations become fault lines, become trenches. The mood sours; perhaps you suspect there may be someone else involved. Otherwise, how to explain this sudden coldness? The turning away with downcast eyes?

Yet when they leave you, it hurts more than you thought it would. It hurts for a long time, too, and although the wound eventually scabs over, then scars, it leaves a tender spot that will be with you for the rest of your life, occasional flare-ups indicating a change in cosmic weather you don’t quite understand. You lie awake at night sometimes, wondering how things might be if you still were together—or even, if you’d never met them. Would you be happier? Or would there be something intangible, yet profound, missing in your life? Read more »

Fair Is Foul, Foul Is Fair: Trump’s Final Soliloquy

by Thomas Larson

According to Donald Trump, in a statement made to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” April 11, 2011, about the fake “birther controversy” of President Barack Obama—the opening salvo in Trump’s campaign of political disinformation—Obama’s “grandmother in Kenya said, ‘Oh, no, he was born in Kenya and I was there and I witnessed the birth.’ She’s on tape,” Trump went on. “I think that tape’s going to be produced fairly soon. Somebody is coming out with a book in two weeks, it will be very interesting.”

And, according to Vox News, President Trump, two weeks after losing the 2020 November 3rd election, tweeted, “I won the election!” He had warned many times prior to the vote that the only way he would lose the election would be if it was rigged, and the only way he would win was if the election was fair, a remarkably trenchant conjuration of the Three Witches’ spell on Macbeth, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”

And, according to Chanel Dion of One America News and Trump legal team lawyer, Sydney Powell, software engineers in Michigan and Georgia (and in parts of 26 other states) contracted with Dominion Voting Systems, which has financial ties to Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, and the seven-years-dead Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, to make ballot-counting machines switch votes from Republican to Democrat presidential candidates or to leave out a prescribed number of votes for President Trump in Joe Biden’s favor. Read more »


by Evan Edwards

AmbAnimationNorThe following is part of a project I'm working on that traces out the history of various words for human locomotion. My hope is that by understanding the uniqueness of each of these words, I can gain a deeper appreciation for walking. The entry (and following entries as well) begins with passages from literature that use some synonym for walking, then gives basic etymological information, as well as a preliminary definition of the word. The last and largest part of the post is an essay that goes deeper into both the history and semantics of the word to make a case for its beauty and power in describing the ways that humans move.


And that's why I have to go back

to so many places in the future,

there to find myself

and constantly imagine myself

with no witness but the moon

and then whistle with joy,

ambling over rocks and clods of earth,

with no task but to live,

with no family but the road.

– Pablo Neruda, El Viento

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Here a quack, there a quack

by Gautam Pemmaraju

Coppersmith_Barbet_I_IMG_0006As the Bombay heat began to set in this morning at nine o'clock, I heard amidst the cawing crows, the shouts of a street vendor, local kids playing cricket, and cars and motorcycles, a long metronomic birdcall emitted from a tiny, fleeting visitor. The Coppersmith Barbet, adopted as the city's official bird, is known so because of its signature call – a metallic evenly paced sound, “tuk…tuk…tuk (or tunk), reminiscent of a copper sheet being beaten”. Rickshaws were passing by raucously; on occasion one would sputter into action after picking up a fare. It is intriguing to consider the only similarity between the two – how the sounds they make are described in speech. If the little crimson-throated visitor's call can be described with a set of phonemes that attempt to approximate it, then the rickshaw's steady rhythm as it charges down streets have led to it being named onomatopoeically. From the tuk-tuk in the tree to the tuk-tuk on the street, it is both the ubiquity and the boundaries of onomatopoeia that is fascinating. I cannot recall now, if I sipped my tea, or slurped it, as the Barbet's sound ceased and the distressing white-noise of the water-pump took over.

From babbling brooks to angry oceans, soft breezes to fierce gales, trains, bullets, rockets, machine guns, and the purrs, meows of cats to the roars of wild beasts, we find ways, in all cultures and languages, to phonetically transform the sounds we hear into words that can be spoken and written. Songs, poetry, and literature are suffused with the sounds of the world we live in through onomatopoeic words.

The steady rhythm of human life itself, the beating of hearts, is cross-linguistically broad in description – from bumm-bumm in German, lab-dab in Tamil and Telugu, doki-doki in Japanese to tum-tum in Arabic, the way chests throb and pulses race find varying phonetic forms across the globe. Boom-boddie-boom was the way it went for Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren in the promotional song for the 1960's film The Millionairess, and in Hindi cinema, we have long known of dil ki dhadkan and the pulsating dhak-dhak. From the diastolic to the systolic, to aches and sighs, the heart and its cadences is widely found in song form.

Onomatopoeia-Is-A-Straight-Forward-Disease-Comic-By-Cyanide-HappinessThe role of onomatopoeia in evolutionary linguistics is highly disputed, and the theories of ‘opprobrious names', the ding-dong, bow-wow, and pooh-pooh, which do not heed visual signs and cues, writes EL Thorndike, are largely discredited. However, the role phonetic elements play in mimetic gestures is an interesting one and the links between sound and sense is an essential aspect of language and speech.

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