Archive for October, 2015

Bernie and me

October 18, 2015

The other day an acquaintance told me, somewhat hesitantly, that I reminded him (visually) of Bernie Sanders. The reason for his hesitancy was that he wasn’t sure of my political leanings. When I told him that I was flattered, he was elated, and told me how happy he was to have seen Bernie lawn signs in his neighborhood.

There are a few more things in common between Bernie and me besides a superficial resemblance. We are, more or less, of the same generation (what I once called my gap generation and has also been called the “silent generation”). Like me, Bernie is the son/grandson of Polish Jews. And like me, Bernie calls himself a democratic socialist.

Bernie is said to have stumbled when, during the Democratic presidential debate on October 13, Anderson Cooper asked him about socialism and Bernie, after beginning “We’re going to explain what socialism is…”  did no such thing.

As I have previously written, I have considered myself a socialist for most of my life, my first political hero being Kurt Schumacher. But though I am a scientist used to dealing in rigorous definitions, I think that Bernie’s deep feeling of dismay with economic inequality and his desire for greater fairness come closer to my identity as a socialist than any theoretical discussion might.

So: I’m with Bernie.

 

 

 

Spanish by Hill et al.

October 16, 2015

A few years ago I wrote about some linguistic troubles that the mystery writer Elizabeth George had when she tried to make one of her characters Spanish-speaking. It struck me as telling that, among the many grateful acknowledgments appended to her novel, there was not one addressed to anyone who might have helped her with her Spanish.

I have since found that Elizabeth George is, in this regard, far from alone among English-language mystery writers. It is especially striking that Tony Hillerman and Michael Connelly, who have written respectively about New Mexico and Southern California — both places rife with Hispanic people, culture and history — have also been cavalier to the point of ludicrousness when it comes to Spanish. I meant to call attention to some of the blunders at the time I read the books, but somehow didn’t get around to it.

I will make up for it with Reginald Hill, the (English) author of the Dalziel and Pascoe series. His novel The Stranger House is a mystery that involve detective work, but it is not crime investigation by actual CID detectives. Rather, it’s about personal quests by a disparate pair of graduate students: an Australian young woman doing mathematics and a Spanish young man doing history.

Early in the book the young man’s name is given as Miguel Elkington Madero. Except that his father was Miguel Madero, while his mother is an Englishwoman named Christine Elkington. He should, therefore — following Spanish and not English naming customs — be Miguel Madero Elkington. While a recent law allows some freedom in the order of surnames, Miguel was born in the late 1970s, so that Hill’s version of the name is an impossibility.

Another linguistic impossibility is Miguel’s nickname, which is given (also early on) as Mig. Spanish words do not end in -g, except English borrowings ending in -ing (such as párking) which is pronounced /in/ or /iŋ/. The ‘hard G’ sound implied by Miguel’s self-introduction cannot occur in Spanish.

Further on in the book there are at least three howlers. Miguel gives himself a more formal introduction as Miguel Ramos Elkington Madero. What in the world is a third surname doing there? Perhaps Hill thinks that a surname can, as in English, be used as a second given name. While some Spanish-American countries allow plenty of latitude in assigning given names, Spain does not, and Ramos is not a possibility.

In a manuscript supposedly written in Spanish, the line ‘Father, forgive me’ is written as Padre me perdona, which means ‘Father forgives me.’ The correct Spanish is, of course, Padre, perdóname.

And Christine Elkington is said to be known in Spain as Donna (not Doña) Cristina.

In his author’s note Hill thanks two Australian editors for helping him get things “right about matters Australian.” There is nothing equivalent about “matters Spanish.” And it shows.

 

 

Chelsea musings

October 16, 2015

Perhaps because so many English female names, especially in their diminutive form, end in unstrssed /i/ (“ee”) — Mary, Margie, Betty, Lizzie… — since about the second half of the 20th century almost any name (place-name or surname) having such an ending has been potentially a female first name: Ashley, Brittany, Chelsea…

For reference, when I was a graduate student at Columbia, one of my professors was named Shirley Quimby (male, born 1893). The actor Leslie Nielsen was born in 1926.

A few such names have resisted being feminized, for example Bradley and Stanley, perhaps because their abbreviated forms (Brad, Stan) have a strong masculine association; thus, for example, Bradley Manning, on becoming a woman, took the name Chelsea Manning.

“Chelsea Manning” has a certain assonance with Chelsea Morning, the Joni Mitchell song that was enormously popular around 1970, about the time that Bill Clinton met Hillary Rodham. It is well known that it was the song that inspired them to name their daughter Chelsea. But there are female Chelseas born well before Chelsea Clinton; for example the writer Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (born 1942). Chelsea Morning, by the way, was inspired by the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan (where Joni Mitchell was living at the time), which in turn got its name from the district (formerly borough) of Chelsea in London, over the centuries home to many celebrities from Anne of Cleves and Sir Thomas More to Mary Quant and Mick Jagger by way of J. M. W. Turner, T. S. Eliot, J. R. R. Tolkien and Ava Gardner.

Perhaps the most famous entity bearing the name Chelsea is not a person but the Chelsea F(ootball) C(lub), a club not located in Chelsea but in the neighboring (to the west) district of Fulham. At the time of the club’s founding, in 1905, Fulham was a working-class area which already had a football club (Fulham FC). The new club’s adoption of the name of a tonier neighboring district is reminiscent of the way Sarah Lawrence College, located in the working-class city of Yonkers (near New York), gives its address as being in the posh village of Bronxville.

My own relation to Chelsea FC is one that I hinted at previously: I would watch their games in the hope that (1) the team would lose (something that didn’t often happen last season, when they won the League title convincingly), (2) one of its players would be injured, not severely, but enough to have the lovely team doctor, Eva Carneiro, come out onto the pitch. Alas, in the wake of the incident referred to in that post, Dr. Carneiro is no longer with the team.

In that incident, one of the team’s top players, the Belgian international Eden Hazard, was injured in stoppage time of the season’s first game, with the scored tied 2-2 with Swansea FC in stoppage time. The referee called the medical team (Dr. Carneiro and a physical therapist) to the field, with the result that Hazard had to get off the field — a fact that angered Chelsea’s coach, the arrogant and misanthropic José Mourinho, enough to shout what may have been filha da puta (literally ‘daughter of the whore,’ in effect the female equivalent of ‘son of a bitch’) at the doctor. (Eva Carneiro, despite her name, is not Portuguese but a Gibraltar-born daughter of a Spaniard and an Englishwoman, but she is said to know the language.)  Mourinho claimed that the words had been filho da puta, supposed an impersonal curse word equivalent to ‘son of a bitch,’ and his claim was upheld by Portuguese linguists, so that no disciplinary action was taken against him, though he was urged to apologize to Eva Carneiro (which he of course didn’t do) by the President of the Football Association. In fact, he suspended her from further action with the team, despite her having followed the referee’s order. But then Mourinho is no great respecter of officials — he has just been fined £50,000 for having made a derogatory remark about a referee. Needless to say, his reaction to the fine was not gracious.

I will miss Eva Carneiro, but I am enjoying Chelsea’s current record of two wins, two draws and four losses — good for 16th place. And tomorrow morning, while I will mainly focus on Everton vs. Man U, I will check in on the Chelsea vs. Aston Villa game and cheer on Brad Guzan’s team.