Monthly Archives: June 2021

cynanthropy

Woof. Ruff. Grruffff! Wrrf wrf woof wuf grf grruff grf gruh rruh rurf ruh wuurh ruwww! WRUFF! Huhh huhh huhh huhh huhh huhh huhh huhh

Oh, sorry. Just mistook myself for a dog there for moment. Much canine. Very dog. Such bark. Wow.

Oops, sorry, did it again. Different kind of dog this time.

I don’t really think I’m a dog much. (A cat, sure, all the time, though.) But some people do seem to imagine themselves as such, or at least to embody themselves as dogs in fantasy (advance notice: this video has rude language):

I’m not sure whether anthropomorphizing dogs, as in the famous poker-playing-pooches pictures, counts, but there is a word for cynanthropizing humans.

Which I kinda gave away there, didn’t I? Yes, it’s cynanthropy.

You may be familiar with lycanthropy: a human becoming a wolf, or at least believing it’s happened. The English word for one such is werewolf (the were is from an old Germanic word meaning ‘man’; it’s not the past tense of was). Well, the English word for a cynanthrope is weredog. Though, really, if you want to go with the Old English roots, it should be werehound—the word dog is an interloper from we’re not sure where.

But speaking of roots, you may have been expecting cananthropy. After all, the classical root for ‘dog’ is can-, right? As in canine, cave canem, et cetera? Well, yes, that’s the Latin root, but anthrop- is from Greek, and the classical Greek root for ‘dog’ is κυν-, which passed through Latin as cyn-, and is seen most often in modern English in cynical (there’s a story behind that, but it’s not today’s word).

So you see what a bit of dogged research can dig up. But is cynanthropy relevant? Yes, it seems it is.

Not that there are packs of weredogs roving around. But in the face of the cynicism of the age, some people are attracted to the ingenuous eagerness of pooches. I don’t mean that they’re dressing up as dogs – though, yes, that too, sometimes, for various reasons –

– but they’re pretending to be dogs on social media. There are, for example, Twitter accounts presenting as dogs, and expressing all the simple wonder and emotional dependency that tend to be projected on dogs. 

And, hey, why not? On the Internet, nobody knows you’re not a dog

conference

This weekend I’m attending the Editors Canada conference. And this year it has been… different.

Every year, I attend two conferences for editors, one in Canada, one in the US. In 2020, for reasons of global plague, both were cancelled; in 2021, both have moved online, at least for this year.

Before I became an editor, conferences I attended were academic ones – specifically theatre studies and performance studies. But the model was the same. Conferences are organized around speeches and presentations, some to smaller groups, some to bigger ones. You get to learn about all sorts of interesting and relevant ideas.

And then there’s what they’re really about.

Conference is a word that is used for more things than this sort of gathering, as we know; it can be a small meeting (between a lawyer and a client, for instance), or a grouping for the purposes of sports (the Eastern Conference of the NBA, for instance) or religion (e.g., certain sets of Methodists), or any of several other assemblies of people. Conference is the noun form of confer, which comes from Latin confero, from con- ‘together’ plus fero ‘I bear, I carry, I bring’.

And conferences are about bringing people together.

They’re about not just listening to information, but listening to it sitting next to someone interesting you just met. They’re about not just laughing at a witticism, but laughing about it in a room full of people. They’re about sneaking into a session late, sneaking out of a session early, standing listening at the back because the room is too full, live-tweeting, asking a question in person, sharing in the silent group indignation when someone goes on a rambling more-a-comment-than-a-question.

They’re about big rooms full of hundreds of people with a common interest, and smaller rooms with fewer people focusing on a niche subject.

They’re about banquets, with their curious mix of pro forma, exciting, starchy, and awkward presentations, plus the infinite logistical vagaries of mass food.

They’re about standing in front of a room full of people, talking to them as a group, seeing their faces, hearing them respond, and then getting to chat with some of them afterwards.

They’re about sitting at a picnic table with people from several continents, having lunch and talking about whatever really interests you.

They’re about bumping into people at receptions. They’re about banquet table strategy. They’re about going out touring the town and seeing other people from the conference doing the same.

They’re about sitting in a lobby bar, or a local pub, or someone’s hotel room, until rather late in the evening, with people you get to see in person for three days each year, talking about what’s happened with you and what you’ve seen and how business is going and…

They’re about getting to meet people in person whom you’ve long admired from a distance – or, these days, long interacted with online (more or less mutually).

They’re about group outings, and silent auctions, and events such as dance-offs and spelling bees (yes, really), and playing cards or Scrabble (or both) in the lobby.

They’re about all sorts of human interaction and observation. (And they’re about the best occasion you could ever want for taking pictures of people.)

But when you can’t get together in person, they’re still about coming together. Webinars are justly reviled – from the audience perspective, they’re not very engaging, and from the presenter perspective, they’re talking into the void, disorienting, unnerving, panic-inducing – but they do let you slip in late and slip out early without being noticed, and they do make question-and-answer less susceptible to domination by the most aggressive. And the small-group meet-ups – I took part in two of them today – still let you talk to other people and see their smiling faces, not to mention whatever part of their residence is behind them. And they let people from many places come together with minimal expense or inconvenience.

But online conferences still bring only about ten percent of what I go to a conference for. They don’t bring the same togetherness.

So I look forward to seeing people in person again… next time!

winx

If you were to see this word, perhaps on some packaging or in an ad, what would you think it meant?

It’s a hard one, isn’t it, to take a go at without making an ass of oneself. Let’s see…

It could be some version of Windows, I suppose. Actually, that’s Win XP, right?

It could be like Spanx, only for, uh, your eyes? Like somehow to keep them less baggy, in place of cosmetic surgery? Or maybe just wicked fake eyelashes. Sure, that could be it.

It could be a breakfast cereal. If Trix are for kids, Winx could be for adults. Rather than the unpleasant Trix rabbit, its mascot could be a pleasant donkey – in other words, a nice ass, if you know what I mean, nudge nudge, winx winx…

It could be a Dutch name. You know, like Schillebeeckx, Hendrix, Six (yes, that’s really a family name)…

It could be an animated series on Nickelodeon. Actually, it is – well, Winx Club is – but that’s not what I have in mind here. Because this winx is actually a common word – a verb, in fact.

So could it be a combination of wink and wince? That’s a thing for sure. I’ve seen people do it. Also some people who have really pronounced dry-contact-lens blinks do similar. But that’s not what the Oxford English Dictionarysays winx is.

According to the OEDwinx is a now-obsolete verb meaning “to bray as an ass.” Its formation is apparently analogous to whinnock (meaning ‘whinny’) and whink (meaning ‘yelp, bark’).

But can you even picture a donkey’s bray sounding like “winx”? I mean, I guess if you give it some latitude… or maybe asses sounded different in the 1400s, when this word was attested.

But just imagine if this word had stuck around and caught on. That great TV variety show Hee Haw could have been called Winx. And then it could have had its own line of cereal and fake eyelashes and…

arteclination

Arteclination: ‘lying in art, lying on art, or leaning on art’.

If you are inclined to recline on or in an artwork, should you decline? We rely on art, but may we lean on it? In art is truth, but may you also lie in art – I mean lie down in an artwork?

The answer is not simple. Some art is made for leaning on or lying in, sometimes even for sleeping in (I’ve stayed in hotels that had that feel); some… less so. 

In the Aidekman Arts Center at Tufts University, where I got my PhD, there is a sculpture court that features several large, sturdy, metal abstract sculptures. Receptions for various things to do with the fine arts are often held there. On one occasion I was on a clear liquid diet (for a medical procedure the next day) but that didn’t stop me from attending an reception for something there; wine, after all, is a clear liquid. However, wine goes to one’s head quickly after a day on clear liquids. I reached out to one of the sculptures to steady myself. Immediately an art student materialized and asked me not to do that. Arteclination prohibited!

On the other hand, in Toronto, where I live now, there is a lovely and popular park south of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and on one side of it is a large metal Henry Moore sculpture. Like many Moore pieces, it is holey. But it is not sacred. There are no guards or art students shooing people away from it. Children play on it. People lean on it (as I have – recently, too). And, sometimes, people recline in it.

Imagine lying in art: the delight of arteclination. It’s almost beyond articulation. To put yourself at the centre of the holy, to be incumbent in the transcendence of form. The exaltation of relaxation. The artificial divide between aesthetic and everyday is unmoored. You become a transient part of art.

And yet sculpture is nothing other than the exaltation of aspects of everyday life. Figural art imitates those ordinary forms and beings that so many people think are too mundane to touch it; abstract art presents the forms and relations, the colours and textures, taken from the skin of the earth and its denizens. Art relies on life: life is what it rests on. And we rely on art to take parts of life, set them apart, and present them back to us for our own abstracted emotional and aesthetic responses, our own – often restful – exaltation. 

We want art in our lives, and we want our lives to touch it. And when we want to relax, where better to support our inclination than an ostentatiously aesthetic object? Or even some piece of everyday life that we have decided to see as art, and to rest ourselves in it or on it as part of it?

Hence arteclination. The arte- is clear enough, and you recognize it from artefact. The -clination shows up in inclination, but its root -cline is also in recline, and many other words; it means ‘lie’ or ‘lean’.

Yes, it’s true, you won’t find any historical uses of this word. It’s a new old word. But it’s for real.

Global English?

This article originally appeared on the blog of ACES: The Society for Editing.

English is not one language and never has been. Even Old English had different dialects. Global English is a family of varieties, mostly mutually comprehensible but loaded with traps and surprises. And even when you can easily understand English from another part of the world, you will most likely recognize that it’s from somewhere you aren’t… and you’ll eventually get confused by something.

All of that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but some people seem to think it’s possible to produce a neutral, non-regional, truly global English. I will grant that it’s possible to produce an English that seems at least slightly foreign to anyone anywhere – the famous “mid-Atlantic” English you hear in some movies is a spoken version – but it is not possible to produce a variety of English that is taken as unremarkably local by every English speaker everywhere. There are several reasons for this.

Pronunciation

The most obvious difference is in pronunciation. Get someone from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, someone from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and someone from Newcastle upon Tyne, England, to have a pleasant chat and see if they can understand each other at all. 

Pronunciation is less of an issue when dealing with the written word – you probably won’t have a person from Buffalo writing “hot” and a person from Toronto thinking it’s “hat,” as you may when it’s spoken. But text is, in fundamental ways, a representation of the spoken word, and it often relies on reference to the spoken word. 

Not just jokes but advertisements and catchphrases rely on rhymes and wordplays that are particular to just some varieties of English – “caught” and “court” sounding the same, or “quarter” and “border” rhyming for instance. These differences also help ensure the impossibility of English spelling reform: you can’t make a phonetic spelling of one variety of English that won’t be incomprehensible to users of many other varieties.

Spelling

Not that English spelling is the same everywhere of course. Canadians are used to American-style spellings but can be very patriotic about colour and centre in some contexts; if a Canadian book expects a largely American audience, however, you can count on those Canadian spellings to alienate them. And on the other hand, if you just go with British-style spellings in Canada, you’ll soon realise it doesn’t always suit. And there are more striking differences, such as gaol versus jail, oestrogen versus estrogen, and arse versus ass – though that last case is arguably a difference of which word is used, not just which spelling.

Same thing, different word

There are many, many things that have different names in different countries. It’s well known that British cars have boots and bonnets instead of trunks and hoods and that a British lorry is an American truck (of a specific kind); it’s generally famous that what Americans call a barbecue Australians call a barbie. Fewer people will know that South Africans call the same thing a braai, or that instead of saying bro or buddy they say boet (which sounds like “boot”) – while in India, they say yaar.

For that matter, there are regional differences even in America, some of them quite celebrated. Is a Pepsi a pop, a soda, or a Coke (used in defiance of trademarks)? Do children on playgrounds ride see-saws or teeter-totters? Such regional differences – which don’t always divide on the same lines – are what linguists call isoglosses, and maps showing the isoglosses are some of linguists’ favorite things.

Same word, different thing

Americans occasionally run up against the fact that pants and fanny mean less publicly acceptable things in British English, and Americans are likely to know that in England and Australia mate refers to a friend rather than a romantic partner.

They’re less likely to know that hotel can mean a restaurant in India; that South Africans call a traffic light a robot; that in India you don’t graduate, you pass out; that tea can be a full meal in England; that a torchlight in Nigeria is a torch in England and a flashlight in the US; that I understand you in the US is I hear you in Nigeria; or that South Africans say shame when they are shown a cute baby or told of happy news such as an engagement.

Americans may not even know what someone from a different part of the US means by boulevard (a grassy strip between sidewalk and street or a wide avenue with a green strip in the middle?).

Turns of phrase

The lexical differences also extend to idiomatic turns of phrase. Where an American might write Main Street on Friday is different from a suburb on the weekend, a Brit would have The High Street on Friday is different to a suburb at the weekend.

A person from England might say I’ll knock you up to mean I’ll drop by and might tell you to keep your chin up by saying Keep your pecker up, but if the hearer is from North America, the results could be… awkward.

Some differences are points of pride: New Yorkers make waiting on line rather than waiting in line a kind of local shibboleth, and for New Zealanders, a phrase like Kiwi as (as in This food is Kiwi as) is, well, as Kiwi as… as what? They expect you to fill in the blank.

Grammatical niceties

There is also the matter of things that are correct usage in one variety but terrible errors in another. I dreamed I dove into a lake may be fine in the US, but I dreamt I dived into a lake is necessary in England. I casted my vote yesterday is terrible in some countries but absolutely correct in Nigeria. I’ll call you when I reach is normal in India rather than I’ll call you when I arrive.

Cultural references

Words and grammar aren’t the only things that vary from place to place though. English-speaking culture is obviously far from uniform, and some baseline assumptions just don’t work the moment you cross a border. Food is different, and passing references can quickly be opaque: not everywhere has food trucks or pretzel carts or chaiwallahs; not everyone can order poutine or grinders or bangers.

And while any Canadian will know what another Canadian means by toque and parka, most other people in the world won’t.

Americanizing and Canadianizing texts is a large and expensive business, and the spellings are the least of the issue. I remember one time a Canadian colleague working on a converted document discovered a number of instances of underprovinciald in a document; it turned out that someone had done a replace-all from state to provincial without checking. But when a guide to a health care topic starts talking about insurance, no amount of word replacement will fix the disparity between the US and Canada – or, really, between the US and anywhere else.

Houses and other buildings can be different, including what’s called the first floor (ground floor in the US and Canada, the floor above ground in most of the rest of the world).

There are also regional differences. In Canada, for instance, if you talk about a condo in Ontario, you probably mean a high-rise apartment; in Alberta, a condo is more likely to mean a townhouse, possibly a vacation property. What you mean by the word bungalow can vary quite a bit depending on where you are in the US. And in some cities, a duplex is typically side-by-side residences with one common wall, while in others, it’s a house with one residence on the upper level and the other on the lower – meaning that a reference to the people in the other half banging on the wall may be confusing.

Global varieties

How many kinds of English are there? Hmm, get a book of paint colors from a hardware store and tell me how many kinds of white, or blue, or black there are. Get another book and count again. English has national standard varieties, regional varieties within countries, local variants, socially divided varieties (often people from the same social group in different cities will sound more like each other than like people from other social groups in their respective cities). 

And don’t forget that the status of English is not the same in every country where it’s spoken – it’s the historical main language in some, the language of a colonizing class in others, and a lingua franca in still others. 

But in every country where texts are published in English, someone needs to make sure that that English doesn’t seem strange. And that someone may be you. The one thing you can be sure of is that while one variety of English may be comprehensible to speakers of another, it may alienate them – and may give rise to significant misunderstandings.

No exceptions?

Do I see a hand in the back? …Yes? …Labels on boxes? And short warnings and things like that? Yes, it’s true that you can produce some short passages that look local to anyone anywhere. But that’s not a global variety of English; it’s a snippet, and many other similar snippets will not seem so universal. 

It’s like going up to a rail ticket office in a European country and knowing enough of the local language to buy a ticket without their noticing that you’re not a native speaker: it doesn’t mean you’re fluent. You couldn’t carry on a conversation without being smoked out. You sure couldn’t write an article – let alone a book – that would be smoothly idiomatic. 

The same is true with using English from one part of the world in another part of the world. Oh, they’ll understand you, probably. But they’ll know you’re not from there, and there will be extra friction and effort in the communication and comprehension. You may not realise it, but the little differences to what you’re expecting colour your reception. And editing means understanding, appreciating, and working with these subtleties.

In effect, localizing English is like translating from one language into another, just subtler. You should only localize into a variety you have native fluency in – if you try to adapt a text into the English of a country you’re not from, you will eventually make an embarrassing mistake. But you also need to know the variety you’re converting from well enough to understand the local points of usage and cultural assumptions, so you don’t think a Canadian’s toque is a chef’s hat, don’t believe that a South African at a robot is watching an android, or don’t get what the big deal is about jumping out a first-floor window.

Which, in my view, seems like an excellent excuse to do some international traveling… when you can.