Wallowing in Negativity

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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 you know, I got a haircut recently where I get my haircut. Everybody is Dominican but me. And so for some reason, they’re all speaking Spanish. And I was just listening, as you could imagine. I was. And there was somebody saying Tabaco. So they weren’t saying Cumbrian not. And your Mother Tambien, they’re saying I’m Boco. So también, that’s also, you know, everybody, even with baby Spanish, knows that now that if you have toddler Spanish, dump me either. So También and Boco and they’re in the kind of opposition Boco is the negative Damián.


S1: It got me thinking

S2: usually where I get subjects for these shows, if it isn’t somebody’s suggestion of some random thing, just got me thinking it’s funny

S1: how you negate things.

S2: There’s something interesting about that in just about any language. And between my Dominican haircut experience and the fact that a certain someone wants me to do a show about this, I decided that I’m going to do a show

S1: about no

S2: things as interesting things. How do you negate I did one before back in about 1957, but I want to do some other things here that I haven’t covered because negation as bland and official as that sounds, it sounds like some nerdy linguists term because it is negation is actually always really cool. You just have to look a little more closely than we’re usually trained to. So, for example, in English, in standard English, negation can frankly be kind of dollar, at least it is to me, because that’s what I speak. But the thing is, the question is what kind of English do you mean? Because the truth is, if you look at real English and what I mean by real English is English closer to what English would have been if it had been allowed to just evolve from old English on into the ether instead of getting interrupted by a bunch of adult Vikings fucking it up starting in 1787. And if none of that had happened, then English would be a very different thing. Some living English are closer to what English would have been if that hadn’t happened. And one of those Inglis’s is in the black country.


S1: And no,

S2: I don’t mean Oakland. I don’t mean Bethesda. I mean in England. It is an area near Birmingham, I guess Birmingham. And here is somewhere where there is a local dialect of English

S1: that is quite unlike anything that we have ever heard

S2: over here. And I think frankly, I suspect for most people over there, this is a really precious recording of people in our modern era. They’re of a certain age and then some, but they are speaking full blown black country English. Listen to these people just talking about some stuff.

S3: We I had nothing on the water, on the canal that I lit a candle or a little calendar. And them all black regiment from the oil. Oh, yeah. I’ve got to go to bed with a candle to. And if you’re going to get out in the night, if I was to go on the toilet, if it was six foot, now you got to walk to the it of the old the back the house on if that was six in the yard your your to detect the term of the washing. I’m cleaning the toilets and the ball of water for a washing. Oh yes. After the First World War and then walked all the way to the village to get some work. And when I got there the ten year Pipestem was about Celebrity Apprentice. You get it now, you’ll go get water for that. Now on what I should do with the stamps if she’s. No, I’m not pulling my leg off. She didn’t go in this time. I put I mean, first time I understand. What are you doing at work on that boat? About three times. I had to leave. Right. I left your husband in them days.


S1: Yes, it is English.

S2: You would think they’re speaking Swedish or Klingon or something. But if you listen to it again, if you if you go back and listen, you can see that it’s English. It’s just not in English that we’re used to. But there’s something particularly cool about black country English. And I want you to hear it here.

S1: Mike, could you go

S2: back to the place where they’re talking about water? Let’s listen to this man.

S3: We’ll get it now. You’ll go get water, for that matter.

S2: Now, if you really listen to him, what he’s saying is you

S1: can’t get water, you call get water.


S2: Now, we just hear that and we let it pass and we think, well, there’s that Norwegian that he seems to be speaking,

S1: but no call is can’t. And so in black

S2: country English, the negative forms of verbs are often completely different. So not just can and then cannot. Can’t, but there’s can. And if you’re talking about not can, then it’s not

S1: can’t it’s call.

S2: And then there’s a whole series of the. Things you shall, but it’s not

S1: shan’t,

S2: which is a little distorted from Shell, but still you can tell

S1: it’s I shall, but if I not, then I shall or I will. But if I won’t, there’s no not at all. Just I wo so I will. No I won’t do that.


S2: That means no I won’t do that. And my these are my favorite two of them actually I do.

S1: But then it’s not I don’t not like Dunedoo becomes don’t I do. But then if I not do I day like where did that come from.


S2: I have something and it’s, I have the h.s drops that I have and then it’s not, I

S1: haven’t, it’s I.A so I don’t have a hat I had. That’s how this Englis works. That is the way

S2: English could have been if those Vikings hadn’t come and screwed it up. I love me, some Danes and Norwegians, but you guys, his ancestors came and made old English easier. And so we don’t have cool things like what a linguist would call


S1: splitted

S2: negated verb form. So if you’re Korean, you know how this goes there. There’s a sprinkling of weird verbs in Korean. If you know something, then you all something.

S1: If you don’t know, then you, Mallu.

S2: So all but not knowing is Mallu, it sounds completely different. There are a couple more of those in Korean. Well you know, if English were really fun then English would have that. But instead we just have things like

S1: do don’t have haven’t.

S2: I want English to be harder. I want to present more challenges to the foreign learner, but I can’t always get

S1: what I want. But then I


S4: know what you’re thinking

S1: now, you don’t have

S2: to hear the rest of it. That was from Cabaret. That’s the original cast album and it’s the verse of the song, if you could see your like I do. And I just wanted to play that little bit of I know what you’re thinking. I want to do that now for four years because I know what you’re thinking now, which is that if you look at English in all of its splendor, we do have a supremely irregular negative verb in the form of good old ain’t. What about ain’t now ain’t is supposed to be wrong. But if you’ve listened to at least a few of my shows, you know that the idea that ain’t is wrong is something arbitrarily imposed, starting especially in the eighteen hundreds, but only only then. So not ten minutes ago but 15 minutes ago ain’t is something that just emerged naturally because the verb to be is used a lot and anything that gets used a lot gets all banged and dinged up like my wonderful Hyundai Elantra. It was 12 years old. I’m driving down the street and some crazy hopped up teenager slammed right into the side of my sweet little under. And for now, I’m Kahless. Yes, I’m fine. I my shoulder got knocked up a bit. But the point being that that Hyundai, by the time it was destroyed by this heedless little son of a bitch,


S1: was actually quite dinged

S2: up because it was twelve years old. So there’s eight. Where does it come from. People often ask me, well you know, we should talk about it. Just because ain’t smells like bubblegum and dirt doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a history. It’s a cute little train wreck.

S1: Actually, ain’t is partly amond. As you

S2: can imagine. There are people who say amond. As I’ve discussed on this show, you say I’m your friend, aren’t I? And we don’t think about how irregular that is. You don’t say I are your friend.

S1: It should be.

S2: And I and there are people who say it, for example, in Scotland and throughout history there have been. But after a while, people like that started getting smacked in the back of the head. But it should be amond.


S1: But you don’t want to say amond

S2: that’s going

S1: to become and after a while.

S2: So that was one contribution.

S1: If you say isn’t enough

S2: and you’re not thinking about the

S1: page and and and and that went into the mix, then suppose

S2: you are saying aren’t. But suppose you’re British and suppose it’s the early eighteen hundreds and it’s becoming more and more common to drop cars in certain places. And so it isn’t any more in many places but it’s ah that thing that we Americans like so much about many British Englishes. And so it isn’t art anymore but it’s


S1: aunt and they aren’t.

S2: So we’ve got amond has become and we’ve got isn’t has become and and we’ve got aunt has become aunt.


S1: And next thing you

S2: know you’ve got this new form that starts out

S1: as aunt

S2: and after a while

S1: you’ve got this aunt and ain’t

S2: ain’t because sounds are always changing. There was one little bump though that was interesting. We talk about this as coalescence and so think about

S1: he hasn’t done it. And then somebody saying, well, he ain’t done it. He ain’t done it. He hasn’t done it. He ain’t done it. Well, it’s ain’t there, but nobody ever said he isn’t done it. That comes from he hasn’t done it, hasn’t hand in hand hand hate, hate.

S2: And then because the British love dropping the ages, you’ve

S1: got ain’t so all

S2: of those things came together and that created little ain’t. These were natural processes. Nobody walked around announcing it or anything like that. Ain’t in the form that we’re used to, only really settles in in the seventeen hundreds before that you’ve got aunt and before the sixteen hundreds. We don’t really know whether it was there at all. So eight is relatively new, but of course it is quite robust. And that’s where our version of the Korean with the Ol versus Mallu for no one don’t know comes from. So we have got our sweet little ain’t is. Well what’s the negative form. Well you person learning English, it’s ain’t. And you just have to know we have at least one of those. So because I gave you a little tease of a show tune about one in two of you or wishing that I had actually played the real thing. Well, I’m not going to play that from cabaret cabarets a little too well known. And also, I played in a bit of a full dress production of Cabaret once where my job was to substitute for the bassist and play the bass notes on a keyboard,


S1: boom, boom, boom, boom. It was so

S2: dull. Every night I would have a different, different friend. They were never male friends, but a different friend next to me. And we would kind of kibitz down there and talk because it was so boring. So I have this thing about cabaret. It made me permanently tired of cabaret, and that was 30 years ago now. But instead we’re going to play an eight song. This is from New Girl in Town. If any of you are from. You’re with Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie? Well, yes, there was a Broadway musical of it, and if you think that doesn’t sound like it would have quite made sense, you were quite right. It was a Bob Fosse dance show with Gwen, and that was the point. And as soon as it played for a year and toured, nobody ever thought about it again except for obsessives like me. But it did have a score. The score wasn’t top drawer, but it had some cute things in it. This is a song called You’re My Friend. And for those of you who are old movie fans and you like Thelma Ritter in Rear Window and all about Eve in particular, you’re getting to listen to Thelma Ritter singing a song. This is You’re My Friend. We are in 1957.

S4: You’re my friend Angel or am I wrong? And a friend once. A friend if I get along. Friends can have a laugh like strangers never and friends have better fights than strangers. And. Just right for you. I ain’t too smart, but I’d fight for you and I take your part. So if I call you up square and. All right. Dirty rat. Don’t get mad at. I’m your friend.


S2: Now, you know what else I think of if know, I’m getting a haircut and thinking about negation and somebody wants me to do a show about negation, one thing I think of and this is going to seem almost predictable to a lot of you is I start thinking of Chinese, and

S1: that’s because you

S2: could think that in Chinese, how you make verbs negative is kind of dull. They have a word that means basically not. Then they’ve got one that you use essentially in the path. So there are two and there you go. So you figure, well, whatever. But no, if you look more closely, you find that the idea that Mandarin doesn’t have grammar because it doesn’t have tabla, there are various ways that that isn’t true. I’ve shared them with you.

S1: But boy,

S2: verbs and negation, depending on which verbs you’re looking at, is one of those things. And so in Mandarin, as you’re kind of scootin skidding around in the language, you start to think to yourself, it’s kind of hard to know how to say that you can’t do something, talk about can and call it works in Mandarin. How do you say you can’t do something? There’s this. Boonen OK, that’s fine. And Bouka you those will take you to a certain point because the negative word then there’s nothing. And you OK?

S1: Yeah, but that’s not always what it is. If you’re

S2: talking about not being able to do something, really, there’s this

S1: whole list

S2: of constructions that you have to learn to use because it’s all subdivided very finely. Languages can get picky about all sorts of things. And one thing that Mandarin gets picky about is this issue of


S1: a Cantonese just sitting,

S2: for example, in Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin’s opera, there’s a song I can’t sit down. And you think that would be very basic, you know, just I can’t sit down here. It is, actually. And I’m playing this partly because this is the 1976 Houston Opera recording. And it’s important to me because I was there. My mother dragged me to that when it came through Philadelphia. And I didn’t know that I liked opera. I didn’t know that I liked musicals. I wasn’t raised with that sort of thing. I just knew I was sitting there seeing this thing that they were doing. And I was just floored. I actually cried. And I’m not a crier. I remember so much of the music, got the recording. I’m 10 years old and I don’t know that I’m going to become this weird straight musical theater fan. And I remember I can’t sit down. I remember the way it was staged. Here is the music.

S4: God. On.

S1: Anyway, how would you say that in Mandarin?

S2: It depends on why you can’t sit down, what’s keeping you from sitting down. And so, for example, sit

S1: zwar, OK,

S2: who is the not word? So you say

S1: sit. Not something. I can’t sit

S2: down if you’re going to say something along the lines of I can’t fucking sit down. Frankly, that is really how I sense what it would be. And so you

S1: would say Dwar Buelow. So I

S2: can’t sit down and that’s

S1: sit not able. So that’s that’s basic. So it’s. All right. Fine.


S2: But as often as not, that’s not what you’re going to say because it depends on the situation. It utterly delights me. So for example, you walk in and you want to sit down, but the chairs over at the other side of the room,

S1: well, dull is to reach

S2: to get to something. So if you were going to say that, well, I can’t sit down. I’ve been watching the Duce, the David Simon series, so I’m imagining one of the gangsters in it. I can’t fucking sit down. And it’s because

S1: the chair look at it all the way over. I can’t sit down what

S2: that person would say if he happens to speak Mandarin and, you know, he just might is that the chair’s too far away. I can’t get to it. And so it’s not doable. That’s nice. He can’t sit down, but there’s a reason it’s

S1: doable, dull. So sit, not reach. That’s what you would say.

S2: Or let’s say that you walk in and you know, the chair, it’s broken.

S1: It can’t hold you or it’s got

S2: slime, that stuff kids like on it, but especially its collapse.

S1: That won’t hold you then it’s doable. John Chung is

S2: to accomplish something to manage to do something. Can’t quite manage to fit into this one because it keeps collapsing. I guess that’s not the slime. But, you know, it’s one of those weak, stupid lawn chairs or for example, you walk into a room and there all these people sitting there and there’s maybe one chair. It’s kind of like you’re at Penn Station in New York City and you’re trying to find somewhere to sit down while you’re waiting for your train. And so you can’t find anywhere to sit. And so there’s nowhere to basically sit your butt down. You can’t go down. You can’t. Yeah.


S1: And so you would say WCA, which is there’s

S2: nowhere to sit. There’s nowhere that I can

S1: but my putzel basically. Or, you know, you can’t sit down really.

S2: If you were going to translate Porgy and Bess into Mandarin, what they’re saying and I can’t sit down because I’m so excited because I want to go pick strawberries, et cetera, I can’t hold

S1: myself still is sit, not stop.

S2: I can’t stop myself and sit down. And so you

S1: would say, what do I can’t sit down. So to do. That’s what it would be. That doesn’t quite work, but that’s

S2: what it would be. You can’t sit still because your legs hurt. I don’t know why I want to say legs your legs hurt. Well then it’s no trouble.

S1: You that means that you just can’t quite

S2: manage because your legs hurt. And so Uds will Bouchet you OK then there’s one other one that I know of and that is that there’s a word to eat and that’s to rise up metaphorically it extends. And so zwiebel

S1: t

S2: means I can’t rise, I can’t sit to rise and it means

S1: that I can’t

S2: afford to sit here and so I can’t afford to sit on this plane. I can’t rise up to what sitting upon this would mean. So you have

S1: to know

S2: all those little things.

S1: That’s a list of

S2: how you use all those verbs in that second place.

S1: All of that is the equivalent of

S2: blah blah, blah. All those verbs might as well be endings. And so how do you say I can’t sit down in Mandarin? It’s all sorts of things and you just have to know which one of those to use. And by the way, as you can imagine, I’m not anywhere near that good at this point. I got this list in this sense from Language Wang. Thank you very much, sir. I could feel these things vaguely, but to have somebody actually list them out, this is the way Mandarin ought to be taught. You heard it from unqualified. Who the hell is he? Me first. But this stuff ought to be taught like, oh blah, blah, blah, and just exactly that way. Now, there are some things that I think you guys are thinking about that actually I did already. And I don’t want to offend by repeating myself to obviously. And so, for example, many of you often write to me about. Yeah, no, yeah. No, I that business of no meaning. Yeah. And the thing is I did a show, the title of it was in the negative a few years ago where I talked about, you know, so I shouldn’t repeat. And then I’ve also talked about how old English had a double negative and so


S1: I can’t

S2: sing in old English. Sing was.

S1: Saying that, and then I say, OK,

S2: now

S1: you could say it, Nakhon sing, I

S2: can’t sing because it was normal. You just put not before something

S1: you can’t sing,

S2: I can’t sing. But you could also say to emphasize that at first I

S1: can’t not

S2: sing and so I can’t sing.

S1: Not yet. Unicon not sing.

S2: And after a while people stop using the net and that’s where that not comes from. So I can not sing. But for a while it

S1: was nay canot

S2: in the same way as French would have had something like

S1: Zerner. Papa, I

S2: can’t. So you have that headphones thing where you have negation being something on either side of the verb. Old English started that way and dropped the ne’er well.

S1: Why is it that you

S2: can have these situations where it technically doesn’t make sense and I don’t want to feed into these prescriptive senses that somebody says, well, I don’t see nothing and then somebody pops you on the back of the head and says, well, that means that it’s not nothing that you don’t see. So you must mean something. Right? And then you sit there and you cry bitter tears and you wonder why you’re alive. That sort of thing has to stop. But still,

S1: technically, you do wonder

S2: why isn’t language logic and it isn’t. But why isn’t language logic. So it starts with

S1: I not can sing then you say I not can nothing sing. Why doesn’t it mean I sing something.


S2: How does it happen that you

S1: have this business of. No, not

S2: meaning what it means. Well for that we have to go to some other languages and then come back to our own or versions of our own. This is actually something fun. I’m going to take you into a little rabbit hole of my own mind. What it is, is that there is something that you could call negative spread. It’s kind of like PAB Stet. I’ve been listening to my beloved great Gildersleeve radio show and there’s some craft product called Pabst and I can never quite figure out what it is, some sort of Velveeta spread. There is negative spread and what’s good for this is French. These days. I get the feeling a lot of people would rather that I use Spanish, but we’ve got to use French because the examples here are beautiful. Make sure he doesn’t see you. Avoid letting him see you

S1: if to avoid letting him see you. If you take Gill VWA that he uses, avoid letting him see you take it walk wrong. It’s easy to kill Nguoi.

S2: Avoid that he doesn’t see you. And what that means is avoid him seeing you. So it’s kind of like it combines.

S1: He doesn’t see you, don’t let him see you with a void

S2: that he sees you and it comes out as a void that he doesn’t see you. Notice how even in colloquial English you would know what that meant. Somebody says, you know, make sure he doesn’t see you.

S1: You don’t mean that.

S2: Make sure that he kind of looks past you. You would know what it meant. It’s this negative spread. So before you make a decision and there’s something about how French puts this that just feels so good. So before you make a


S1: decision of OK, before VOO, you

S2: make a decision, plenitude, indecision.

S1: So I won’t give up on decision. Wrong. I haven’t given up on you undiscussable before.

S2: You don’t make a decision and it means before you make a decision one more. I have less work than you do so

S1: they want to give you some of it. I have less work than you do at the end. Why did they give, you know, novae then.

S2: You don’t have. I have less work than you don’t have. Almost makes sense in English and French. You have to put it that way. The negative ends up popping up in places that it doesn’t belong. So I have less work than you do and you’re thinking, well, you don’t have as much work and you put all that together into a sentence. That random, sloppy thought process happened when Latin was turning into French and it became what we consider perfectly standard French. Avoid that he doesn’t see you. Notice how you know what that is supposed to mean, even though it doesn’t technically make sense. And, you know, it’s not only French, this can happen in forms of English. And, you know, I’m taking you into too many of my rabbit holes in this episode, but I’ve been spending the pandemic. Yes, I have to mention it. Even in the Happy Valley

S1: pandemic, watching

S2: through all of The Jeffersons and The Jeffersons is great for language, partly because of black English, partly because of how people were speaking almost what is now fifty years ago. Here is something that George Jefferson says in an eighth season. Yeah, they did eleven in season eight and eighth season episode of LÉ Jeffersons.


S1: Hi Doc. Hi. Yeah. The emergency, well, I see I’m organizing a little poker game over here tonight, and I just want to know if you’d like to come. What do you mean I dragged away from your patients. It ain’t like, you know, real doctor.

S2: OK, so you hear that

S1: ain’t like, you know, real doctor. What he doesn’t mean is it isn’t like

S2: you’re not a real doctor. He’s making fun of him. He’s saying it’s

S1: not like your

S2: real doctor. This person is a marriage counselor in the script for the record. So ain’t like, you know, real doctor. Same thing. You start with the core of it, which is somebody saying, well, you ain’t no real doctor.

S1: OK, then it isn’t like

S2: but you’ve got that same sentiment and so sloppily you jam the sentences together. Ain’t like, you know, real doctor that is good, solid black English, not black country English, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they do the same thing. But this is American black English and it makes perfect sense when you watch this episode. If you have to sit through it, you do not misunderstand what George meant. There is a survey. We only do this now and then. And this is your chance to tell us what you think about Slate plus and Slate. We want to know so we can make the product better. It only takes a few minutes. It’s not one of those twenty five minute surveys and you can find it at Slate dot com slash survey. So please take our survey and let us know how we’re doing, especially with Slate. Plus because we know that these things are like us fragile businesses.


S1: And then while

S2: we’re on these black varieties of English, whether it’s the black country or black people, we need to go to Jamaica because there’s another interesting thing about negation in the kind of English spoken colloquially in Jamaica, often known as patois

S1: and patois,

S2: skirts that line between being a different language from what we think of as English and being a dialect of English. I don’t think we can come to any kind of decision. But there’s a really interesting thing about negation there. No one talks about this. I’m not sure how many people think about it, but it’s always kind of intrigued me. And so, for example, if you want to say something

S1: like no way we’re talking about John, the way you say it is not John. We are talking what Jamaicans.

S2: I’m sorry, how I sound. It’s been a while since I’ve been there.

S1: No, John, we are talking well.

S2: So it’s John that we’re talking about. But you say no,

S1: no, John, we are talk.

S2: But now notice that in standard English in America, we would not say

S1: no, John,

S2: we’re talking about that doesn’t make sense. You’d have to say no, it’s John or something. But in Jamaican patois, you say, no, John, we are Taqua or something like,

S1: well,

S2: you know, all of that was something that John said. All this is just John’s stuff. And then somebody wants to say, no, George is the one we’re talking about.

S1: What you would say is, but wait, wait, wait. No, Georgie, it’s George. No, Georgie. And what the no means is it’s not dodgy.


S2: Notice we wouldn’t say

S1: no, George.

S2: We could as an exclamation, but in Jamaican patois,

S1: no dodgy is

S2: actually a whole sentence in the same way as no,

S1: John, we are talk, but it’s not.

S2: No, John. We’re talking about it’s no John.

S1: We are talk about

S2: it’s a whole different way of having a sentence.

S1: You know what that is? It’s this spread of

S2: knownas where at first it doesn’t belong. It’s the thing that happens in languages, in Jamaican patois originally

S1: is was

S2: NA. And I’ve shown you that in SR1 on in Surinam. And we talked about that in Nigerian pidgin and Creole when we talked about the trajectory of Jamaican back to Africa, etc.. So in early Jamaican patois, the way you said is was not. So this thing where today you

S1: say no, John, we are tugboat. Back then

S2: it used to be not

S1: John.

S2: We are talk but and that meant it’s John that we’re talking about. But this is how these things work. The NA shortened as things do. And so just like hain’t becomes ain’t in that kind of regional British English. Well nah became. Ah. So today if you were going to say

S1: it’s John are that used to be not John, now it’s John.

S2: So there’s no more na

S1: but the na stuck

S2: in certain expressions such as not John. We are talk but not Georgie. But if there’s no more na meaning to be anywhere else in the language you start reinterpreting it. It sounds like something else that sounds like no. So next thing you know, people aren’t saying


S1: not John, we are. But you say no John, we are taqwa.

S2: And next thing you know, you have this no. In a situation where if you talk to a Petawawa speaker, they don’t think of that as making any strict sense. They’ll say, well, all right. Yeah, I guess that’s the way it is. It’s just, you know, an idiom, you know, slang or something like that. But really what it is, is. That language is always delightfully messy, so, no, John, we’re talking about because it used to be that if you said not, John, we’re talking about you men, it’s John and the closest thing that now sounds like is no after a while. So there you go. And so if you’re learning how to use the word no in Jamaican patois, you have some work to do because it doesn’t always, quote unquote,

S1: follow from the way we would think no would be used. Just delicious stuff.

S2: There’s something I need to do that genuinely does not sit gracefully with me, which is I have to sing of myself a little bit because I’d be an idiot not to. In May, my nine nasty words is coming out. It’s a jolly romp through all the profanity that you want to know things about. It starts with Dan and it ends with Motherfucker. It is not really nine words. It’s really depending on how you count it. About 12 but nine nasty words sounded good because of the alliteration. So that comes out in May. And I would like you to read it because I wrote it as a labor of love and well, I wrote it. And so I want people to buy it. And I do a language podcast. And so I would have to push it and to go into a different area. It’s gotten to the point that a critical mass of, you know, that there is jolly language podcast or linguist me, then there is the less jolly quote unquote contrarian race writer me. And that’s a more controversial aspect of me. But I have to say that that me is now writing regularly on this thing called Substract and I am at John McWhorter to kluge it altogether. John McWhorter, dot substory, dot com. There I am writing pieces on my opinions about the issues of the day, usually about race. And I’m also sharing the book that I wrote about race last summer just basically in a grand, spontaneous yelp. It’s called The Elect, and you can read it there. I don’t usually share that aspect of myself here in the Valley, but, you know, it’s getting to the point that enough of, you know, that I am basically being coy not to. And I would like you to read my substory because I’m putting a lot into it.


S1: I want to end this one,

S2: not with negation, because that can seem kind of like a downer, but with something that I’ve just been noticing lately. What do you say when something hurts?

S1: We say, oh, ouch. But, you

S2: know, that’s arbitrary. That’s not what all people say. Japanese people say

S1: it to I.

S2: I once heard somebody in in Quebec say,

S1: i.e.,

S2: I’ve heard Daffy Duck say that in one cartoon, The Millionaire, but real people like it. Ouch. And the woman said, I. And then I heard a guy say it wants to there all sorts of words you might make if somebody hurts you physically in some way in Latin apparently was

S1: how how like that. So now we think of ouch. But things change. And you know what? It was different

S2: in at least American English just a century and change ago. And what I mean is that there is this ancient comic strip called Home wanted by a baby. It was by Claire Dickens. Claire Dickens was a man, for the record, and it was this daffy thing that collectors of ancient comics enjoy. And it had its moments, frankly, by modern standards, just some. But my

S1: favorite moment in these is that baby is

S2: always like putting himself into a basket and becoming a foundling in front of somebody’s door.

S1: And what the baby says is, wow, wow.

S2: And so all sorts of things are happening and the baby is laying in this little thing going,

S1: wow, wow. Now, is that the sound

S2: that a baby makes? You think it would be like Wagner or something like that?

S1: Wow. And I always wonder, what is that? Wow.


S2: Then I started looking around the pop culture of that time and it’s interesting.

S1: Wow.

S2: If you’re talking about the teens and before meaned ouch.

S1: And the way that you know,

S2: it is, for example, I had occasion recently to take a look at the very first Felix the Cat cartoons, and we’re talking about the teens. So 1919 Feline Follies, and it’s silent. But at one point somebody hurts Felix, something with the tail. That’s the way one would hurt a cat if one desired to hurt a cat. And when the cat gets hurt in this barbaric way that things get hurt in silent comedies and silent cartoons of the time, the cat says they have a balloon.

S1: The cat says, wow, isn’t that interesting?

S2: Generally, if you’re feeling physical pain these days, what you don’t say is, wow, unless you’re into certain things. But it’s clear that when this cartoon cat is getting hurt, it’s like, wow,

S1: wow, wow.

S2: Which makes sense because Owl is the same thing and an owl starts

S1: with a W, so it’s like, wow, wow.

S2: It’s kind of arbeter. Very that we started

S1: with the owl part and then there’s

S2: a cartoon in 1932. This is Tom and Jerry, but not the cat in the mouse. It’s just these two guys and it’s from the studio called the Van Buren Studio. They released through RKO. If you saw on RKO movie, like flying down to Rio in 1930 to the cartoon before, it would be, frankly, one of these magnificently inept little cartoons like this. There are people who are big fans of the Van Buren cartoons because they’re so charmingly inept. And needless to say, I have rubbed my nose in these because they are fascinatingly poor. And one of them has Tom and Jerry, these utterly ineffable men, and they’re supposed to be plumbers. And at one point they’re falling down. The building has fallen to pieces and they’re falling down. And listen to what the one who I think is supposed to be Tom says as he blinks himself on one of the tub’s. I’m not absolutely sure that that’s wow, but I’m pretty sure that that’s a wow, he hurts himself and goes, wow. And that’s because back


S1: then, Wow was one kind of al.

S2: And that’s changed. And now we use. Wow. Just to marvel before we go out, I just want to share with you one of my favorite two and a half minutes ever. No one cares about this but me, and I’m genuinely not sure why. This is Duke Ellington.

S1: This is Delta Bound.

S2: They did this in the David Simon series. Talk about him, Tremé. One person does Delta bound the original, but I think is the first time it was recorded is

S1: this

S2: and it makes me just so happy. It’s a wonderful arrangement. What I’m going to play for you first is just the instrumental. Listen to the play of the instruments between them. Somebody wrote this, the

S1: song itself, not much, but

S2: the arrangement on this, what the instruments have to play, where and why is astonishing. So I’m going to give you I’m Delta bound and here is one of the most wonderful forty five seconds of music I have ever known.

S4: First.

S2: 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 dot com slash Lexicon Valley. You know, the Felix the cat that I grew up with, you know, there are these silent ones. But then they revived him in the very late 50s. And if you were a 70s kid, you saw him on TV. The Felix the cat I grew up with laughed like this. I thought that was so cute. He would do that at the end. And the person who did

S1: that was the same guy who did Popeye for 400 years. So it was he was an amazing feat. Anyway, Mike Volo is, as always, that there.


S2: And I am John McWhorter.

S4: I mean, are older now that over Knee-Deep in clover. I’ll soon be found. I’m on my way now. Almost any day now. I’m down to my.

S2: When I was a kid, I remember my mother occasionally using the name Allah wishes, it wasn’t for religious reasons, but it would just come up here and there. And if you had never seen it written down, it was the oddest sounding name, Allah wishes. And she thought it was kind of cute. I forget what context she would use it in, but I remember being like eight or nine and she says, Allah wish us well. Now we know that, you know, there’s an issue of saints, etc.

S1: and I’ve been

S2: thinking just randomly lately how much fun Alawi’s this is if you zero in. So, for example, you might be listening to a song, you might such as look what happened to Mabel, that being the silent film star Mabel Normand in Jerry Herman of Hello, Dolly and Mame Fames let successful musical Mack and Mabel. So back in the early 70s, this is Bernadette Peters playing Mabel Normand. And listen to just one part of one of her songs where she uses this name. Actually, it’s the chorus boys who do. But you take my point

S4: of what happened to me now. I never really knew that I know it, but suddenly I know I have to say goodbye and say that I wish I know that you might think I’m cleaned up.

S1: Do you know what Alloush is out of wishes is Lewis?

S2: It ends up being the story of names which are always quirky but interesting.


S1: Lewis When we say Lewis, Lewis

S2: as in St. Louis or that guy Lewis or Lewis Black, that goes back

S1: to a word Cluedo we lose a week and a week would

S2: have been in Frankish, Frankish would have been spoken over and for example, what is now France. But this would have been a language related to Irish and Welsh. Frankish would have been a Celtic language. So it wasn’t like French, it wasn’t like Latin, nor was it a Germanic language. Frankish would have been something a lot like the languages that are now confined largely to certain islands except for Britain, which is the remnant of what was a migration over the channel. So Frankish is a language that’s attested in fragments, and we know that the original word would have been

S1: a week,

S2: which means loud fight. So Lewis would have been a name that you gave somebody in a celebratory way, the idea being that they can make a loud fight, that they are a good battler. So Lewis would have been a macho name. So you start out with

S1: Ludwik, loud fight, and

S2: over the years that becomes Lewis gradually and you can see the same name in various stages in other languages. And so

S1: Ludwik is Ludvig Ludwig

S2: in, for example, German. So in German it’s frozen because of the operation of the page at an earlier stage,

S1: or Ludwig Cluck, cluck, cluck. And then we the the voice.

S2: Clovis, if you’ve ever heard the term Clovis from French that Clovis is originally from Ludwik and so Clovis and Lewes are the same word,

S1: but then we can keep going. So Hamood, a week

S2: now in the south of France, other languages developed that are like French but not they’re also a lot like Spanish. These languages, you know, Provençal, Occitan, these are languages that I always say seem like the love children of French and Spanish because they are geographically in between.


S1: And so Ludwik

S2: in the south of France, in an earlier version of what it’s now Occitan

S1: is Alawi’s Alois Ludwik, Louise Alawi’s.

S2: When people who are using Latin decide to use that word, Alawi’s becomes Alawi’s shifts. And this shows you that languages have differing fates. There’s this other Mandeans factor. And so I talk to you now about Occitan as largely oral languages that are extremely threatened and that most people don’t know about if you’re not in the country.

S1: But these Southern

S2: Romance languages spoken in France used to be languages used in writing of great prestige, competing with the French language spoken up in the north

S1: to the point that

S2: this Alawi’s Westword, an old Occitan, would have been adopted into Latin. It was a prestige language.

S1: So all the weakness is Alawi’s Latin ised.

S2: Alyosha’s is the way somebody in Philadelphia says Alawites use hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years later. So that’s what that is. Did it ever occur to you that Loess is the female version of Lewis? It didn’t to me either until I started thinking about this a little bit harder. But that’s what Lois is. Lois goes back to a week to it’s just that the fate is. A little bit different, and it happened to be assigned to women and finally,

S1: Ludwig, OK,

S2: why? Why did that happen? Because of sound change.

S1: So Ludwig, to week, it gets a little messy. You break it a little bit louder week to week

S2: and then is not that unlike so Hooda

S1: week. So there’s the Lewis.

S2: So all that from this lyric about St Aloysius and you’re thinking, what a weird word, Alawites. This is a very strange word from the English perspective. And then you start thinking about the word Lewis. And if you know about how language changes, you know, Lewis probably was longer and different and has different renditions in different places. And goodness, is that true of Louis St Aloysius.