S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership, the following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: From New York City, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m John McWhorter. And let’s begin with some Stephen Sondheim.
S3: This is actually for those of you who care about such things, my very favorite musical. This is a little night music. And this is a song called Now. It is a middle aged man who has married a much younger woman. And certain things haven’t happened yet and he’s feeling kind of self-conscious about it. This is my favorite part of the song on top of my head.
S4: Like I wish I could put on my nightshirt disarmingly. Be in the nude. You should see my body’s all right and whatnot. Perspective and not the light. Kenric, how can I be chilly? A buffoon, but I’m sure it’s Isumi and mid-afternoon. Virtuous people, so which means the suggestion for how to proceed. Although she gets restive, perhaps I can read the codes and I. Dishonest tactic is confronting instead of approving the plan of attack that’s very much below.
S5: And in the black democracy, it’s kind of weird calls for just me, the Bronx is at random, but not really gave a taste as much blander, I’m sorry to say, but as Hans Christian Andersen Evaristo.
S6: Yes, that’s a pretty maybe it’s those words.
S3: I love what Stephen Sondheim does with words. If you’re a word lover and you probably are if you’re listening to this podcast, then you probably labor under the impression that we all labor under to an extent, which is that speaking your language is a matter of just stringing words together, that there are certain concepts. You learn what the label for the concept is, dog yesterday already, you know, Popsicle, whatever, and that that’s what language is. That’s what it feels like. But the joy of language is that there’s so much more. That’s what I try to get across in this podcast. That language is actually more interesting than we even might think it is. And one way that it is is that part of speaking the language is not only knowing that the thing that barks and it’s cute is a dog, and that when you talk about something that happened before, you might refer to it as happening already. There’s more than that. You also have to know how to speak the language differently in certain situations. So there’s the vanilla form and then there are things that you do and you learn this sort of thing subconsciously. Nobody teaches this in grammar lessons or the like, but it’s part of actually being a person in a language. So, of course, an example of this would be Married with Children, the silly sitcom that there were about eight hundred and seventy five episodes of. And yes, I have seen every one of them. It was actually a very witty show in its stupidity. I highly recommend it. It was a word feast and one episode that I always liked was called God’s Shoes. And in this episode, Al Bundy has had a dream where there’s something connected with shoes and religion. I forget exactly how the plot went, but the idea was that he starts walking around in godly garb and talking in a kind of, you know, Cecil B. DeMille biblical register, as we call it. And so at this point, he is in this outfit and walking around talking this way, and he’s cooking up a scheme as he often wants to make money. And his neighbor, Jefferson, is trying to get in on the deal. Listen to how Al is talking.
S2: I so go forth on to the people to reveal God shoes and multiply upon the.
S3: Let me come with you all and learn how much we’re going to prepare. I will hear nothing of price.
S7: That’s your job. You’re the marketing go.
S3: So I will hear nothing of price instead of don’t talk to me about how much things are going to cost. I will hear nothing of price. You know, even this Atai educated Al Bundy knows that if he’s being this biblical character, he has to talk in a certain way. You learn that subconsciously, whether you’re familiar with the Bible or not, that’s what a linguist calls register. Another example is this here is actually my favorite old movie, except for Citizen Kane and about 10 others, my favorite old movie. I’m sitting here recording this in my study. I have not one but two posters of dinner at 8:00. This is a movie of 1933. Some people say 32. I don’t know why, but it’s a delightful movie. It’s kind of an extended episode of The Love Boat. And this is Jean Harlow as Kitty Packard trying to wheedle something out of her husband, played by Wallace Beery. And listen to the way she talks to her.
S8: Dan Benny. Right. Because she are a great big for. It’s my lord and Lady Claire who said so she did what, why didn’t you say so in the first place?
S9: Because you want me to pull out and remember she’s doing this before Elmer FUD exists. She’s not imitating a cartoon character. This is something that people were doing in 1933 and eons before. There’s this baby talk register that a person can go into. You just learn this. Nobody teaches it to you. But what it means is that talking is more than just the vanilla. You also learn that there are these other ways of talking that you go into. It’s part of knowing a language and even just reducing this, not to how you put words together, but just the words themselves. Languages vary in how they handle that kind of thing in really interesting ways. It’s easy to think that English is way is the only way a language would do it. But no, they’re all sorts of ways that languages get more complicated than they’re just being some label for a thing or a concept. There are many labels and you have to know when to use them. You have to know in which context to use them. And so let’s look at some examples of how these things go. Let’s look at examples that will seem exotic to us, because that’s part of the joy of living to see things that are very different from what you would expect. So we’re in northeast India, their languages in northeast India that no one’s ever heard of. They’re so obscure that even the people who speak them haven’t heard of them. They are very obscure. I’m kidding about that. But one little group of languages like that is called the mystery languages, very obscure languages spoken by very small groups, not known to outsiders very well, miss me. And the mystery languages are interesting in all sorts of ways. But one of them is that the idea that there’s just a word for something wouldn’t make sense to them, because there are lots of words for things depending on what context you’re in. They’re actually depending on how you count it in these languages, eight different registers, you might call them. And anybody who speaks these languages unconsciously knows all of these different ways of talking. And it’s not just a matter of occasionally using baby talk because you’re in an old movie and you’re trying to get something out of your Jackass husband. It’s not that you are going to dress as something for Halloween and walk around talking like Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur or something like that. This is something where you every day you’re switching between these things. There’s the vanilla, of course, but if you know the vanilla, you aren’t a person in the McMellon, which is you also have to know a whole set of different words that are used when you’re hunting. And it’s not just two or three. There’s a whole hunting language. Shamans have a whole different language and everybody knows it. Not just the shaman, but everybody knows the shaman register. They have the poetic register, of course, where words are different. They are different words and different expressions that you use when you’re mediating. When people are having an argument, then of course they are curse words which are different from regular words. Then they’re humor words, words that you only use when you’re being funny. You know how in English, you know, potatoes, kind of a funny word, just kind of is there’s something funny about the potato itself, but potatoes kind of like he. That’s just the way it is. I was told by a Russian person once that the word for coat is funny. Bidle for some reason that’s funny. You know, to us it’s not funny, but to them coats are apparently funny. Well, in missioning languages, that’s all formalized more. There are the funny words that you use when you’re not being vanilla, but you’re making jokes. And then of course, they have their babytalk words, which are not just a matter of pronouncing words differently, like Elmer FUD and Jean Harlow, but just completely different words. It’s really astounding.
S3: And it’s so easy to think, well, it’s these primitive languages because the people don’t have psychotherapy or something like that. No, the fact is that generally the less, quote unquote, advanced people are in terms of quote unquote civilization, the more complicated their language is. And they’re all sorts of ways that a language can be complicated. With Dimiceli, this is their thing. For example, one of their languages is called Koeman and in common, the word for Bear ordinarily is Coom. That’s Bear. But if you’re hunting, there’s a different word for bear and it’s Humar tongue. So normal word for bear coon hunting, word for bear. When you’re off hunting you’re talking about catching that thing. It’s a hum watering and hum. Your tongue is not a name. That doesn’t mean like bear or something like that. It doesn’t mean something like oh great bear creature. No it’s that the word for bear when you’re hunting is home for tongue instead of coom and you just have to know if you’re a me then you know this cursing. You have different words. And so for example, the way they say go to hell is go to a ghost village and the. Order of the words is Ghost Village, there go you, so the way they say it, and I have never heard this language, I doubt if I ever will. And so if any of you happen to be human speakers, I’m sorry, I’m butchering the language, but I’m trying and so go to hell is come out. Glad he long so come out. Galut is Ghost Village and then he is there. So come out Glady and then Geelong. Geelong, Geelong is go. You know what’s interesting is that the Geelong is something that you only say when you’re cursing the go you those are not the vanilla words for go or you know it’s almost like there’s you in English and then there’s something like, you know, your ass like take your ass to the stop and shop or something like that. That’s kind of what this Shillong would be. And, you know, the cursing word for go would be something like haul your ass or something like that. You only use it when you’re cursing. And so you go to hell, come out of Geelong, the cursing versions, then poetic. And so you might think, well, a quote unquote, civilised language has higher layers, whereas then they’re just these little dialect. No, no, not at all. Even languages that aren’t written and the vast majority are not written in any real way. There’s a high version and a low version. So brother ordinarily is chop me chop not chopped meat, chop me. That’s brother. But then the poetic word for brother kind of brethren. Except if there were a singular version of brethren that is cheap, cheap. So brother chop me. But then if you’re going to say kind of o brother then that’s cheap lamb. Isn’t that interesting. Or like sleep we can say sleep then there’s slumber. You know, you learn slumber later and you almost never use it except maybe in a certain irony it’s the poetic word for sleep. If you were going to write a bad poem, then you would have somebody slumbering instead of sleeping well in common. The word for sleep again is just yet. Of course, this language also has tones, you know, in addition to everything else. So sleep. But then if you’re slumbering, then it’s she think she’s OK and noticed that she is in a version of neat. It’s not the difference between something like Danny and Danny. It’s a completely different word, like sleep and slumber. Except she think is even more different from Geep then slumber is from sleep. So that’s how labeling works in common. Depending on context, you have completely different vocabularies and their large vocabularies and you just have to know, and this is something that makes you think about language loss. When a language like this dies, then what you’re losing is not just a bunch of labels for things like Dog Cat already and yesterday you’re losing all of these different sets of vocabulary depending on context. And when the language is dying, one sign of it is that young people will only know the vanilla words. Think about all that’s lost when a language goes away. So it’s just something to think about. In any case, it’s time for one of our musical breaks. And you know what I’m going to play? I’m going to do the Nicholas Brothers. Do you ever seen the musical stormy weather of the film musical Stormy Weather, where at one part near the end, the Nicholas Brothers tap dancers come out and do what is certainly the most amazing tap dance on film? Even if you don’t like musicals, you should go online and take a look at the Nicholas brothers doing their number in stormy weather. But that isn’t the only thing they did. And the wonders of the Internet are such that you can actually watch them when they were little boys doing their thing. And it’s nineteen thirty six and they’re singing a song called Lucky Number and they were just so cute. And the song is so catchy. This is the Nicholas Brothers, much younger than they were in stormy weather doing lucky number.
S10: You know. Show me, I’ll buy you. Superstitions might even let me share a table with Dean, this is your. We haven’t been that smarmy yet. Yeah, I don’t want to put my trust in government, does I? You know, so maybe you are maybe a lucky Leavenworth’s that’s using a lucky number for me.
S3: Mike actually play back when Fayad, the older one, says table with 13 dishes, table with 19.
S10: This is you.
S3: You hear that? The 18 dishes. It’s that boy, that black boy from the old days. And the Nicholas brothers grew up in Philadelphia. That is something that you hear. And also the orchestra listening to just the dance music orchestration arrangement of pop music really reached a special peak in the 1930s, not 40s, not the Benny Goodman swinging stuff that had its charms, but a pop orchestra in the 1930s as one of my favorite sounds in the world, just the way they put the instruments together. So let’s look at another language that throws us in terms of what we think of as normal Javanese, not Japanese, but Javanese. This is the island of Java in Indonesia. And Javanese is an interesting language in that what word you use for things depends not on whether you’re hunting or whether you’re using Babytalk, but on what level socially you are on. And so there is almost a different language that you use if you are a person high on the social scale as opposed to a person who is ordinary on the social scale. And then there are also variations in the middle. So there are a lot of Javanese is to the point that speakers practically think of the levels as different languages. And so, for example, you are you know, you’re 13 and you’re talking to your 14 year old sibling. This is just very vanilla. If you’re going to say something like, I have eaten the rice, you’re just going to say it. Then it’s Oku. We Mongan circular. So Alkozai with Mongan have eaten and then Sekula the rice. That’s how you say I’ve eaten the rice. If you were going to do Duolingo Javanese, I don’t know if they have it, but if they do, that’s how you would learn to say I have eaten the rice. OK, but if you are the king of Java or if you are a lowly person speaking to the king of Java, I don’t know how their political system works. But you’re a lowly person speaking to Mr. High Java. You don’t say Oku, you say cula. And Cool is not a version of Acho. It’s a completely different word for I. You are the same I but if you’re talking to the king or if you’re the king, just talking, you don’t say Oku, you say Coola and then we Samangan that’s have eaten the rice. Wiess is some someone if you’re using the high version Mongan eaten and that sounds like eating to us because of Monga. No that really is not something that you say if you’re a high person or if you’re talking to a high person, the high person does not. Monch the high person. Dynes And so you have to say, no, da da, not Monga Nootka, you know, with your kind of pinky up and then Rice, if you just, you know, just talking, then it’s circular. But if you are speaking, then Rice is so Coliban and you can see the relationship between the words Sekula is clearly what happens to Suckley point when you say it an awful lot. But so Clip-On is the word for rice if you’re talking high. So there is the ordinary lowly kind of saltine cracker, whatever, and Go-Kart, that’s what it’s called. Then there’s the Croma. The Croma is the high and then even in between. And so, for example, if there’s a servant who is talking to one of the children of the people she works for, the people you work for, you’re supposed to speak Croma. You’re talking to the 13 year old. Then there’s a middle version. It’s called Amadei. And so instead of Coola, some Bernadotte. So Coliban, you say Coola, but instead of someone, well, there’s a kind of a sort of assumption. BOONEN Now it’s Wiess, an ordinary someone in high. If you’re in the middle. Well, you do BOONEN And then you’re going to have your Nador you don’t say Mongan even to the 14 year old who you work for. And then so Coliban, you don’t have to say that. You say Sekula So you have these three layers. There’s them, Gokul, the media on the Croma. And then, of course, as you might guess, in real life, there are some layers even in between, they’re really five. But to make it more graceful, you can imagine it as three. So it’s one of those things with the Army, me languages. The thing that makes them hard is that you have these eight different registers, these eight different sets of vocabulary with Javanese. What makes it hard is that that you have these different levels depending on formality and you have to do it. Javanese is one of those languages where at first it seems almost strangely easy. I’ve mentioned on this show that Indonesian is like that. You don’t have a whole lot of endings, you don’t have to deal with conjugation, you don’t have to deal with things having meaningless gender, nor is their tone so Indonesian, it really does never smack you in the face. It’s a very user friendly language for various reasons, mainly because it’s been used as a lingua franca for so long that adults have often learned it and adults don’t learn language as well. And so it makes the language easier. Javanese is a lot like that at first. And so you think to yourself, well, this is another one of these languages that adults have made easier. But no Javanese is hard in that there are many Javanese and native speakers of Javanese are very much aware of this. I have lost count of how many Javanese people have said to me, oh, yes, I speak Japanese, but I don’t speak the Croma. Don’t that I don’t know that high one that’s becoming common in modern society. And there are people who grow up with Javanese, but they prefer Indonesian because you don’t have to learn all of these layers. Javanese is tough and it’s because of this hierarchy that it has. So with Javanese, it’s not just that there’s a word for it. You have to know various words for ITW, depending on who’s talking and who you’re talking to. Languages are interesting in that way. We’ve got kids, children, we’ve got Monch, Duyen, we’ve got some of it. But all of that is much more formalized in Japanese. You could hear more of this than anybody else will if you sign up for something called Slate plus Slate plus would mean that you would get more information for a nominal fee. And also you wouldn’t have to listen to any ads. It wouldn’t be broken up by somebody else saying stuff, especially during covid. It tends not to be me doing that. All of a sudden there’s this other person and whatever interesting thing they happen to be saying still, it breaks up the show or sometimes all of a sudden it’s me talking about some mattress or something. You don’t have to have that if you get Slate plus and if you get Slate plus, it’s not just about Lexicon Valley. You don’t have to listen to ads with any of the Slate podcast that you listen to and you always get the tag. All of us do a little tag just for people who paid a nominal fee and got Slate plus, which frankly, during these circumstances helps us out a lot because covid has affected all media organs in negative ways. And so Slate, dotcom lexicon plus is where you go to get Slate plus and hear a little bit more of this. Every time I do a show, for example, this time, if you want to hear about how the sound end gets a bad rap all the time, what a random topic that is. Well, you’re not going to know the story unless you sign up for Slate plus, and I’m almost sure that you will be glad that you did. Now, another way that language can be about more than just what the label is for something in many languages of southern Africa. There are different labels not based only on hierarchy but on taboo, their words that you absolutely cannot use in the presence of certain people.
S9: And more to the point, it’s not that there’s only a set of other words that a person might use, but to a large extent you are expected to make up your own. That is another way of being a language I’m talking about. Lanita NIPA is a tradition in certain languages of southern Africa. The ones that we hear about the most are Hausa and Zulu, but there’s some others. And in those languages, it’s the most interesting thing. If a woman marries into a family, then there is a rule, there’s a custom that she cannot use the names of her male new relatives and not of her mother in law. And that might seem trivial, but it means that you have to change the way you talk, because not only can you not say the names, you can’t use words that have those names or parts of those names in them. So this is as if there’s somebody named William Green and his parents are named Robert and Grace and William Green marries a woman. The woman now can’t say William or Green or Robert or Grace or any words that have parts of those names in them. Let’s say that the woman wants to say that William’s mother, Grace, won’t eat green yoghurt. Grace will not eat green yogurt. That’s what the woman who’s just married, William, wants to say. Grace will not eat green yogurt. Can’t say that because he can’t say grace his name. You can’t say will because that’s William’s name. Your husband is one of your male relatives at this point. And you can’t say green because that’s the last name that you’re marrying into. And you can’t say yoghourt because Urt is in Robert’s name. So you can’t say Grace will not eat. Yogurt. So the way that you have to say that is something like the older daughter of Smith, if you know Grace’s maiden name was Smith, the older daughter of Smith not will not, but refuses to and then eat. You can’t say green, so you’ll say grass colored. And then maybe for yogurt you’ll say your mix or something like that. So not Grace will not eat green yogurt. You can’t say that it’s a real taboo. It’s you don’t do that. Graceless, rude. There are rituals that you have to go through to apologize. Grace, when I eat green yogurt has to be. The older daughter of Smith refuses to eat grass colored comics. That’s the whole NIPA. Some of these Lanita words are set. You just learn them being part of the culture. So for example, with wagan, the word for wagon and Hossa is immaculate. If there’s somebody named kÉ or something like that, well then you have to say exactly. OBC milk. Well if somebody is named U.B. or something like that, you can’t say OBC. So you say Laza. And the reason you say Laza is because that root means fresh. And so you’re saying kind of the fresh stuff and everybody knows that you mean milk or talk about potatoes. If you say Eataly in Hosa, if you can’t say that and you’re observing Moniba, then you say Moussambani. Moussambani is the Zulu word for potato Hosn Zulu or about like Spanish and Portuguese. They’re related and they are very similar, different languages, but very similar. And so you might use a Zulu word instead or and this is the really cool thing. Often NIPA words are ones that have CLECs in them because these southern African languages are spoken close to and there’s lots of interaction with speakers of in the past, the click languages where the clicks are ordinary sounds. So these languages are not klick languages of that original kind themselves. But one way that you make a Lanita word is to make a click version of the word. And this is something that almost certainly arose because there used to be many marriages of kallick language speaking women with men speaking these other Southern African languages. And so one way that they would observe NIPA would be to come up with a version of the word that has one of these CLECs in it. It would have been natural. After a while, people speaking these southern African languages picked up the CLECs. You never know how language is going to work. So, for example, Grais Jaba. Well, if Jabor is also the name of your mother in law or something like that, then the way that you make it a honeypot word is hubba hubba. All sorts of ways that you have to distort language partly based on a set of words everybody knows, partly based on your own creativity. And of course there’s some bleed between the two. And the idea is that, no, there isn’t just a word. There are other words that you use, depending on whether they happen to sound like the names of your in-laws and especially your mother in law.
S3: And to an extent, you just have to make it up. So, you know, what’s the word for milk? LUEBKE OK, but the word for milk is also Laza. And you just have to know that is a way that a language can be. Here’s a quick song, by the way. This is on the Twentieth Century, a wonderful, wonderful musical. This is Cy Coleman’s music. This is Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s lyrics. This is nineteen seventy eight. This is a song called Repent, which is sung by a now very religious woman who was not in the past. And this rendition is by the marvelous early television comedian Imogene Coca. This song gives me a belly laugh every time I hear it, and I’ve probably heard this cut hundred times. This is repent. It’s funny, I first was played this in college and even as late as when I was in college, I didn’t know a thing about musical theater and somebody played me on the twentieth century. I did not get it, couldn’t stand it. Wondered why anybody would want to listen to such a thing. Now I will play this in the car. It’s just delightful. This is part of repent and every time. Oh, we’re passing through the book Inside the Zoo.
S11: There is dirty doings going on. The devil tempts us every day in the backseat of a Chevrolet could be the place dirty doings going on. So keep the simple rule to save. You prefer to do only what you do.
S12: Robert, Robert. In the fiery pits, it is too late for your to repent, repent, repent.
S9: There’s a fire in the. Tied to my back seat of a Chevrolet, that’s just perfect. So what I just talked about with the NIPA, that’s called avoidance language and there are versions of it around the world. Another favorite version of mine is in various Australian languages where you do use a separate vocabulary specifically with your mother in law. You’re not supposed to look at her and you have to use a whole different little language with her, this mother in law. Language is a common phenomenon. And so, for example, one of the languages spoken in Queensland, it’s called Google Jimm and in Google Yamey to your Google is language and you meet here means this roughly Google, you meet here in that language, you do not use the usual words that you use for moving around with your mother in law. So in the regular language, there’s going and walking and sailing and crawling and stumbling all these words just like any normal language needs. But when you’re talking to your mother in law, there’s just this one word that just generally means go. And that covers the going in the walking, in the sailing, in the crawling, just going, moving. There’s just this one word. If you use any of the regular words, that is a real insult to your mother in law. It will be like calling off with a curse word.
S3: So Australian Aboriginal languages, it’s interesting. When the English first got to Australia, they made all sorts of comments about these languages that the indigenous people were speaking very often. They thought of the languages as so primitive when really the languages were invariably in many ways much more complicated than anything in boring old English. Captain Cook gets to Australia and actually Google here was the first language that they encountered. And he’s, you know, writing his memoirs. It’s totally different from that of the islanders. It sounded more like English and its degree of harshness. That could not be called harsh neither. That’s what Cook writes. Well, it’s the harsh these are really, really sophisticated languages. In fact, one more thing about Google you meet here is that it’s actually more famous for being a language where you never say that something’s in front of you or in back of you. You talk about whether it’s north or south. If something in front of you is north, then if you turn around, you don’t say that it’s behind you. There is no word for that. You say that it’s north of you because it still is. And the people who speak Google, you here always know what direction things are. They live on flat land. They need that. And yeah, you can get them dizzy, you can get them anything. They’re in the dark and they always know, well, it’s west of me. You don’t talk about left and right. Also Google, you meet. Here’s where we get kangaroo. You know, somebody asked what is that big hopping thing? And somebody said Kangaroo. And that is how we got the word kangaroo. It might seem like I’m getting more and more exotic. You’ve got the Miss Me, you’ve got Javanese. And then we look at Hello, Nipon, what goes on in Google you meteor. So this stuff looks really weird, but, you know, we’re weird, too. And not just in the sense of being Western educated, industrialised, rich and democratic. Not weird in that, you know, there’s a book, by the way. Oh, you’ve got to read this book. There is a book by his name is Henrik Henrick.
S9: I forget his first name, but Henrik and he’s written a book about weirdness in that sense and how we Westerners with those traits are actually highly unusual. I highly recommend this book. It’s just one of the best books ever written. But in any case, yes, we are weird, but we’re also weird in the kinds of ways that seem, if I may, so weird to us, looking at languages from the outside. Think about this, which you heard before I started this show. My could you please play the little warning that apparently my show has to have?
S1: The following podcast contains explicit language.
S3: The reason that they put that is because I apparently am known for being kind of profane on this show. I’ve pulled back on it over the past couple of years because I realize that their children listening and I have to stop saying some things. But frankly, why can’t I say fuck? Because it’s profane. We know what fuck refers to. But no, I’m not allowed to say that there’s kind of a taboo on it. It’s there. It’s old. If I say it, nothing happens. I just said it twice and I’m looking out the window in the sky is not going to fall. And, you know, even you children, you heard me say it and I think you’re gonna be fine, but I’m not allowed to say it.
S9: And, you know, it’s getting to the point where modern Americans are less uptight about profanity than they used to be. For example, fifty years ago, I could not even play with saying fuck on the radio the way I do now. But we have taboos on other words. So, for example, here is a language teacher and he is talking about Chinese.
S13: Something about Chinese in an online discussion here is if you have a lot of armorers and this is culturally specific, so based on your native language, like in China, the common word is that not that so in China might be nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger. So there’s different words that you hear in different countries, other cultures, food stays the same.
S3: Erm now what he’s referring to is that Mandarin, like many languages, has a way of saying like in the hedging way that we are so familiar with. So to say like, like, like or that what you may call it that, that the way you say that in Mandarin is their word for that, that, that and the that is nigger nigger Naga. Or another way of saying it is nigga nigga. In many parts of Queens where I live, you can hear people saying that on the street all the time. And there have been jokes that people have made about how that sounds like a certain other word. It sounds like Chinese people are saying it, but of course, we know that they’re not. What reason, what they have to use that particular word to talk about that particular subject. So very, very much, even if you don’t know Chinese, you can listen to that word being said and kind of guess that it must be their word for like like like. But, you know, this gentleman who used that word in passing, talking about a usage in Chinese is now on suspension from his job. And that’s because many people think of that word as not only a slur that should not be used, that’s one thing, but also as a sequence of sounds that should not be uttered regardless of meaning, even in Mandarin Chinese. Talk about Javanese and NIPA and mother in law language. Well, to be honest, an outsider would see our verdict on that particular word as equally exotic. So it just goes to show that we are not always aware of how complex our languages and we’re not always aware of how exotic our languages from outside perspectives. With that, I want to give you one more bit of my favorite arranging style. This is something that I first heard in nineteen eighty seven and I am not a crier, but by the end of this number, just listening to the orchestra play the song over and over, I actually teared up. And I know I’m not the only person who loves this title song to the musical of nineteen thirty six On Your Toes.
S9: This is a recording from the eighties reconstructing exactly how this number was done in nineteen thirty six where they built up the arrangement bit by bit by having the instruments come in. Then they did the song and then everybody dance to the song and the orchestral arrangement goes through chorus after chorus of this very catchy tune with variations. Each time it’s a marvellous six and a half minutes. You don’t have to hear all six and a half minutes, but here is how it begins. This is Laura Teater as the male lead and listen to the orchestra building up into that glorious thirties pit band sound. First, we’ll hear the two pianos.
S14: They will sneak in a solo truck and at the traps. Now, the markets will have a tough time, Melanie.
S2: Pretty up top of the tree, my sweet. You can reach us at Lexicon Valley, at Slate Dotcom, that’s Lexicon Valley, at Slate dot com, to listen to past shows and subscribe or just to reach out, go to Slate Dotcom Lexicon Valley grind up some Sichuan pepper. By the way, it’s not really pepper, it’s just a spice. And yes, I’m thinking of this because of the Mandarin Chinese thing. But this is important. Grind up some Sichuan pepper and your spice grinder and then saute some shrimp with it and you will have a good time and you should wash it down with watermelon flavored bubbly. I found it and damn, it’s good. It is certainly the best of the flavors. I now have all of the cans lined up on the mantelpiece. In any case, Mike Volo is as always the editor. And I am John McWhorter.
S9: Cyberpunk cybernetic cyberspace, you ever think about the fact that cyber is hard to exactly pinpoint in terms of what it means, but more to the point, cyber is a mistake. The original word that it was used in was cybernetics and sideburn was the root. Sideburn is from Greek. That’s what it was. It was sideburn Edik. But we say Cybernetic, and you think that cyber is something different from the genetic. And as a result, we have this cyber and the NT got cut off. It should be cyber and that sort of thing has a way of happening to end and has a way of getting shuffled around and falling away. Cyber always makes me think, well, where’s the NT? And then there are other places where the end is gone. And so, for example, there is an apron, right. That’s that’s a mistake. It was Natron originally. That isn’t the way it was pronounced. But if that were used today, it would be NAPCAN, not apron, if you think about it. Related words like nappies with with diapers or what it is and some other languages. The word supposed to be NAPCAN, but people talked about Natron. I’m going to go get Natron because I’m going to be chopping potatoes. And after a while people started hearing it as an apron and apron. So the end got sucked off onto the indefinite article. And so all of a sudden there’s something called an apron. That’s not something any old English speaker would recognise. I’d say, well, why are you calling it an apron bents? Because of the change or orange. That’s wrong, too. It should be an orange. The word starts in Persian as Naranj and then it starts making its way to Europe. It’s actually French that messed it up. And so it was Naranj. And then in orange and so orange has the N chopped off. What what happened? Same thing with the snake. A snake that’s called an adder.
S3: That was originally a matter, not an adder. And the end got chopped off also impossible. That’s wrong too. It should be in possible. That makes sense doesn’t it. In possible. But and this happened way back in late Latin in possible is not as easy to say is impossible because you want to have lips with both sounds. So if there’s this push coming up then in has a way of becoming erm and there goes your N again and is always getting swallowed up. Now there are times when N pops up out of nowhere, it does happen. So for example, little city creature, it’s called an F today and EFT, but a lot of people heard an F as a never never note Newt a Newt and so a Newt really should be. And Newt the N got sucked off of the indefinite article. And now you talk about Newt’s or Edward mein child because mom used to be mine, mine, child mine, Edward my Nedd, so my Nedd. That’s why the nickname for Edward is Nedd. And then there are things like whole nother issue, whole other issue. Now you want to say a whole nother, but this is the problem. When MN appears, nobody likes it and always gets smacked. So for example, nobody gives a damn about Neutze and frankly, I don’t know anybody who actually likes them. And then with Nedd notice that that’s nobody’s name anymore. Nobody is feeding at Amama to their little Nedd and then letting him watch the iPad a little bit and then with a whole nother another is considered wrong and ugly so and pops up and gets smacked on the head. Otherwise it’s always getting swallowed up. I feel sorry for em. That’s my soapbox for today.
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