A talent for snot

Wednesday 7 March 2012, 1.00am HKT

THIS IS A SIDEBAR to Part 5 of “What’s it been?” feature.

You’d be glad to know I hate and detest writing angry stuff like this.

Forgive and burn.

* * *

Some have a talent for snot

I’m not naming names (for now), but one Sino-bloggeur draws my particular ire for his highly unpleasant snooty demeanour that’s hard to miss throughout his writings.

It’s not that I’m writing this because he treated me that way. He treated everyone that way.

The apparent worldwide popularity of his linguistics-related blogsite in many ways also highlight the questionable reading abilities of his blog’s readers because his demeanour has manifestly been one long piss-stream of veiled putdowns at the Chinese, the people he professes to live and like in that land ‘over thar.’

Talk about deteriorating reading fluency in our day and age.

Nonetheless, I’m sure his blog will improve over time and his readers will then be able to get the message that blogger is trying to put across.


‘A great many languages’

Urovan urine bag, extra super quality penhole type,
with 17.5mm Bhor extra soft cloth and
standard 1-metre heavy tube length, from Interlabs

To cut a long story short, that foreign-shat brat living in The Long Graveyard (i.e. China) had been making derogatory insinuations that I was being racist in one particular thread.

Coming from someone who chose to live in a urine bag of a xenophobic country like China — ranking 77th place in the world economy* vs. 5th-ranking Hong Kong where I live — I don’t know whether to call you congenitally stupid or just congenitally thick-skinned.

* Jumped from 175th to 77th overnight on absorbing Hong Kong on 1st July 1997.

With regard to the bloggeur’s knowledge and abilities in his ‘discipline’ (i.e. field of study), I pass no judgment. I am sure enough to say that the bloggeur certainly knows his linguistics.

Then again, he specialises in a field that few of us would (or could) understand, so naturally I would defer to anyone who has ‘experience in a great many languages.’

Myself, I’ve merely had two mere years of merely formal instruction merely in linguistics (and not even out of mere choice).

And I can count to 100 if I’m not rattled.

But, of course, I did take a course in good manners.


“Stay not too long in my country.”
— Octavian to Germanicus in the run-up to the (Second) Battle of Actium


© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. Image via Interlabs.

Aside: A little about linguanophiles (4/4)

Monday 5 March 2012, 11.30pm HKT


(Updated 06 Mar 2012 for typos and formatting failure)

If you’re a linguist (as per linguistics), translation specialist or a pedagogue (educationist or even a teacher), you are not going like this part. It is cynical, but it is also highly accurate for what it’s worth. As the Italians say, it is what it is.


4. Isolation

If there had to be a fourth reason for the noticeable rigidity and rigidisation of certain academic disciplines, then I reckon this might be it:—

A great need for certainty often comes from not getting out much.

This, I’ve noticed even casually, is more often the case with people who spend some significant portion of their lives in some combination of physical, intellectual or even mental isolation from the people and happenings around them.

Maybe it’s because we don’t consider others to be up to scratch because of education, training, social class, loose coinage in their pockets or something.

But more maybe it’s because different views kind of sets up the need to deal with real-life ambiguity — and most of us find it a chore to learn to shoehorn different views into our neat and tidy, educationally conditioned, mental grids.

Whatever the reason, it’s still isolation all the same.

It’s just like that demotivator poster above — you have everything a townie has, but you’re still just driving around on a small, secluded island. No man is an island, but some people come pretty close.

If you’ve lived long enough, you’ll notice aloof or supercilious people often tend to have great need for certainty in their own needs and wants — likewise, equally great expectations of surety from you in fulfilling those needs and wants of theirs.

I’m reminded of what the Speculative Grammarian once told me in a Facebook thread that linguists often don’t update themselves in their fields or even look at the work of other linguists. That puts it rather well, as Denholm Elliot’s character said in the movie ‘A Bridge Too Far.’


Quo vadis?

Linguists (and translation specialists too) vehemently deny any of this.

  • They say they don’t dig orthodoxy.
  • They say they value new contributions to existing theories and practices.
  • They say the inherent contextuality of their subject matter leaves no room for a great need for certainty — and, incidentally, then they say a need for certainty is a good thing because it makes their disciplines ‘more robust.’
  • They say we’re mistaken and they’re not isolated from real life (which is not what we’re saying anyway) — we’re misjudging them because their “experience of a great many languages” could only come from constant contact with the world at large (as one Sino-blogger once retorted to me in a thread).

The last point above was particularly insulting and insolent. It’s as if the rest of us hoi-polloi don’t measure up merely because we’re unknowledgeable in the morphemes, lexical content or functional grammar or f@#king fricatives of a dozen different languages that they know.

I mean, I’m not having it in for lingos, tarnsies and other assorted academics in liberal arts. The liberal arts have their value and uses. But don’t ‘handle’ others with your field of study as though it were a intellectual shield. That’s just makes you a mean bean jumping bean. Truth is, the average liberal-arts graduate earn only 15% more than a secondary school leaver would.

Your chambermaid down the hall is illiterate but could muster some pleasant phrases in Spanish, Swahili and Turkish, get along just darn fine with her Brazilian, Polish and Ceylonese colleagues, and connect with them without needing to ‘correct’ their semantics or semiological functionality. And she makes more money than you do just from tips.

Argue only with their own kind

Indeed, you can get into raging arguments and lifelong feuds with these people just about everything in this Aside — which somewhat proves my point already. Just about every other linguist my classmates and I ever met turned out to be an argumentative character. The more articulate ones have the added flavour of being sardonically insolent. At least the tarnsies (translators) and educrats argue only with their own kind, and that helps to maintain general harmony.

We all want certainty one way or another. We need to feel certain at some point in our life — to feel like we know what’s going to take place and what’s going to happen. Certainty is comfort; it is one of the six basic human needs for a reason.

But even a casual look at these particular people tell us many of their actions are done under the auspices of their need for certainty. It’s a bit like smoking — it becomes a habit after a while. It isn’t the cigarette itself or the actual smoking that makes the smoker feel certain or comfortable. it is the manner they ‘drag the fag’ that makes them feel relaxed.

Assisted suicide

But after having fully two years of linguistics instruction at university (not by choice, I might add), it surprises me so few of us (the lingos, tarnsies, educrats and non-lingos on lingo courses) actually notice these tendencies. Maybe there is some sort of political/poetic (poelitetical?) message somewhere amidst all of the pretension.

“Ironically, people seem to have an easier time totally reversing their beliefs — going from being certain that X is true to being certain that not-X is true — than accepting ambiguity.” — Claude Fischer (ibid.)

Remember, just as the emperor committed assisted suicide as the mob spilled into the palace in the movie ‘Quo Vadis,’ your greatest handiwork could also be your own undoing if you don’t do what the proverbial mob on the march is expecting for their need for certainty.

It’s not just the soy sauce the mob’s expecting to spill for certain


© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. Updated 06 March 2012.

Images: Isolation via eBaumsworld | Supermarket spillage via CTV.

Aside: A little about linguanophiles (3/4)

Monday 5 March 2012, 9.00pm HKT


(Updated 06 March for typos and formatting failure)

The need for certainty is in every one of us. It enables us to regulate our lives and activities, giving ourselves some measure of control in an otherwise chaotic world. But the need for certainty can sometimes cause us to discount and disregard some of the essential nuances and changeable quality built into life.


3. Need for certainty

The need for orthodoxy (‘orthodoxy attachment’) comes chiefly from a great need for and insistence on certainty.

This is probably the biggest factor fuelling paradigm maintenance.

You don’t honestly need to be a rocket scientist to see this suggests some underlying inferiority complex at play here. Everyone else with a modicum of common sense and a little learning can relate to you that language and learning are at heart changeable and changing things because of their inherent contextual ambiguity in use.

“Those of us who teach undergraduates often encounter a woeful complaint when we’ve presented them with conflicting factual claims, explanations, or theories: ‘But which one is true?’

“In part, this cry may reflect students’ urge to know what answer to give on the exam. But I think that it more reflects a general need for certainty. The teacher may want them to compare and contrast assertions, to appreciate that the science on many topics is still in flux, to understand that there may no ‘right answer’ on many topics, but accepting that level of ambiguity is a hard task for many students – and people in general.” — Claude Fischer, ‘Tolerating Ambiguity,’ Made in America (blog), 18 Oct 2011 | Link

(Boldfacings are my emphasis.)

It’s like asking what’s the actual colour of the chameleon — the only possible answer is the permanent colour of a chameleon is the one when it died. Who knows what colour when it was living?

Linguists and translators (‘tarnsies’) say they have to live with ambiguity and flexibility every day. The physicists say theirs is an exacting science, but they’re also visibly content living with a lot of uncertainty (thanks to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle). The lawyers know for certain to a moral certitude that even court judgments can be set aside.

Wherez ur god nao?

Truth is, it’s the lingos and tarnsies who can’t live with ambiguity, which is why their fields are so filled to the brim with rules. They’re all prescriptivists who claim they’re not. (I’m actually a prescriptivist, so it takes one to know one, I suppose.)

Each lingo or tarnsie is vying against one another in trying to come up with ‘the next killer text’ for their discipline — that’s why there are more books published in linguistics than all the physics, biology and chemistry books combined.

To phy-bi-chem people, a standing tome is schleppage. But to the lingos and tarnsies, the book is prestige, something certain to go to if you’re looking for certainty.

That’s why mailing lists like the Linguist List bombards the inbox with roughly 200 messages every week, whereas the Molecular Biology Notebook list could only muster 50 or 60 a month.

I don’t think anyone will be stupid enough to think linguistics is harder than molecular biology (which I did do during my very first job in a London hospital).



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. Updated 06 March 2012.
Image via Made in America | Fistful of languages via Alexander Gross.

Aside: A little about linguanophiles (2/4)

Monday 5 March 2012, 6.00pm HKT


(Updated 06 March 2012 for typos and formatting failure)

We present you with the second key reason for the rigidness in some academic fields such as linguistics, translation studies and pedagogy.


2. ‘To supplant rather than augment’

Adherence to orthodoxy (‘received wisdom’) primarily stems from a distinct tendency in those fields to treat a new theory coming board as to supplant rather than augment existing ones.

In contrast, the normal situation in other fields (such as mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics or law) is to do it the other way round (i.e. augment rather than supplant).

Here’s a quotation from someone (an academic AND a sociologist, no less) who understands the situation:—

“Much of our civic and social discussions are dominated by the voices of people who are absolutely certain. The speakers brook no thought that their claims are provisional, that future evidence or future reflection might overturn them. Those who accept more ambiguity are at a disadvantage. Once these uncertain folks grant that their opponents just could be — perhaps in certain cases, perhaps partially — right, they have lost the initiative to the certain-truth warriors.” — Claude Fischer, ‘Tolerating Ambiguity,’ Made in America (blog), 18 Oct 2011 | Link

(Boldfacings are my emphasis.)

In other words, the mindset of these folks is about replace vs. add to, which I reckon is no sunshiny way to develop harmonious relationships — which is why there are so many ‘debates’ (read: arguing, bickering) in those fields.

In short, if you’re certain enough, you get to replace the pre-existing rather than add to it.



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. Updated 06 March 2012.
Image via Central Florida News 13.

Aside: A little about linguanophiles (1/4)

Monday 5 March 2012, 3.00pm HKT

(Updated 06 March 2012 for typos and formatting failure)

IF YOU CARE TO PAY ANY ATTENTION AT ALL to the people and happenings around you, you’ll notice linguistics, translation studies and pedagogy (education) are rigid and rigidised fields.

Of the lot, linguistics is broadly speaking the most rigid and rigidised.

The most hotly contested (and heated) debates in academia today are in linguistics, which fact should help you infer the type of people who populate that field.

To be perfectly honest, all fields (academic and non-academic) are like that to some degree. But linguistics, translation and pedagogy are probably the easiest to notice for their rigidness if you pay attention.

There are three key reasons for the rigidity and rigidisation:—


1. Paradigm maintenance

Paradigm maintenance (‘rules for innovation are set in stone’) is a very strongly developed trait in those fields. You will have noticed (as my ex-classmates and I did) that in those fields more times than not anything new is smoochingly described as ‘innovative’ but actually regarded with suspicion as unorthodox.

Yet if you’re blackballed to begin with, how are you going to get the white balls unless with some kind of social engineering exploits?

(I’m using ‘social engineering’ in a very loose way.)

If you had to use social engineering, you’re not exactly unblackballable, are you?

In short, the SOP is keeping the old game scores alive rather than trying to score new hits.

This is why there’s so much argumentation and argumentativeness going on in those fields and in others like religion and politics.

This is in direct contrast to other fields (say, chemistry) where your newly minted theory is accepted at face value and be let run (whilst being told as ‘unorthodox,’ etc) until such time your theory is ‘unable to carry on continuation.’

On the face of it, it looks like there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two stances. In fact there is a world of difference:—

  • One treats you as suspect whilst using welcoming words (linguistics, etc)
  • The other treats you without great suspicion but only with uncompromising language whilst they verify your continuability (chemistry, etc).

In other words, it’s the difference between waxing sincerity and being actually sincere.



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. Updated 06 March 2012.
Images: Innovations in Rigidity via c4c | Gold Rush Paradigm via Lance Scoular.

Aside: Protips on how to work with an editor

Sunday 4 March 2012, 11.00pm HKT

I have been involved in the faggotry called editorial work for a long time, and more’s the pity when it comes to the insane and pointless (and oftentimes insanely pointless) antics of various types of authors whom I’ve had the misfortune and displeasure of working with.

Which is one of the reasons why I switched over to the less profit-challenged (and less pretentious) line of printing. Now as a printbroker and financial printer, I can at least give two fingers up (AmE: the middle finger) to misbehaving clients and tell them, sorry, I’m in manufacturing, not in effing ‘services.’ Now piss off.

Okay, I’m not your typical-looking boss. I’m head of a 114-year-old printing firm, which is only 57 years younger than Hong Kong itself.

I have shoulder-length hair tied up in a ponytail by the grace of my passed-on mother.

I’ve recently donned semi-homoerotic whiskers just to scare off both the gays and the straights. I’m a chopper biker who wears cowboy boots almost daily.

Altogether, those things make me a shagging load more conservative than my architect father and fashion-designer mother, who, quite frankly, were a bunch of faggoty, ‘socially aware,’ liberal-leaning, freedom-lovin’ Liberal Democrat hippies. But Dad drew well even while totally brain-damaged and Mum had good colour sense even while in drunken state on 1963 vintage port, so all is forgiven.

(Get on with it.—Editor)


1. Stop being a f@#king amateur!

The only way to look like an amateur, srsly

You’re just pretending to be a professional:—

  • if you don’t know the meaning of ‘pro bono’ while being at master’s or doctorate level
  • if you have a lawyer (practising or not) as your editor
  • if your editor (lawyer or not) has been ‘servicing’ practising lawyers, bankers and assorted government officials who do high-speed overnight markups on IPO documents for submission to the likes of NYSE, the SEC or various regulatory bodies around the globe
  • if you don’t know what blacklining is
  • if your editor has been doing editorial AND printwork longer than you’ve been born


Fact: You are doing just one single publication for yourself. An averagely abled editor has on average around 30 publications in ongoing edits (much like an average litigation lawyer with 300 cases at any one time).

An ‘average’ editor has done lots more publications before for others, and have the added pressure of having to edit them in a way to make those publications sell. STFU.


2. Write one thing, and one thing only.

Writing different versions of the same sentence to describe the same thing in the same copy is always, always the best way to jack up your editorial costs.

Self-explanatory, you sonofabitch, if you notice anything beyond your nose.

Like, man, those on my Job No. B08045 should learn this simple skill.


3. Finish your draft first.

Never ever for as long as you live do ‘live’ drafting while editing is going on.

Drafting simply cannot be happening at the same time as editing.

Not unless you’re some kind of sado-masochist and prefer to be walloped with ghostwriting charges.

By the way, learn the goddamn difference between a draft and a manuscript. It could save your life.


4. Not your flippin’ PA, RA or TA!

Please! An editor is not your personal or research or teaching assistant!

You know how these lazy buggers operate. It’s worse with the academics. Really. Srsly.

These tight-arsed, liberal-leaning maggots just dump virtually everything on these PAs, RAs, TAs or Whatever-As without so much as batting an eyelid. The As do their markups, their markings, their teaching, their admin, their ‘independent correspondence’ — whatever the hell’s supposed to be done.

Hello! An editor plainly (and plaintively) isn’t for you — more suitable would be a grovelling boyfriend waiting on your hand and foot to sort out your ‘drama.’


5. ‘Polish up’ your derriere!

That phrase ‘polish up my English‘ (or anything else for that matter) does not exist in the professional world.

(It doesn’t exist in the ‘unprofessional’ world either.)

It’s schoolboy language, and exists only in an imaginary context.

Editing is editing is editing. And editing is billed work.

Stop being a bloody amateur for even five minutes in your miserable life.

Don’t say stupid things like:—

“The first draft was completed at … I sent it to …, with whom I was working on final polishing … This was the first time anyone had read the whole manuscript right through, apart from its author.”
— From an actual conversation with an author

That kind of language really scares the f@#kin’ daylights out of the most hardened editors.

That’s because language like that shows the author hasn’t got it together on three fronts:—

  1. not understanding the difference of draft vs. manuscript
  2. not understanding you (the author) need to f@#k around with the 1st to 5th drafts before you finalise it into a manuscript and send it off to the publisher or editor
  3. not understanding that even one single innocent use of the word “polishing” highly signifies the author (maybe you!) is still living in a dreamworld about what editing is all about

These kind of author-personages are often still stuck in a world of scissors-and-paste longhand typewriter writing mode.

If you’re normally an obsessive personality, there is one time you absolutely must NOT be one — when you’re writing stuff that you know eventually has to land on an editor’s lap. Let the editor develop obsessive personality and have his or her day.

So many times I find young authors (not necessarily in age) who think their agent or publisher will ‘fix’ every ‘mistake.’ Therefore they submit subpar work. Often with disastrous results (and shocking editorial invoices). I’ve been trying to tell these young authors that they get only one chance with each reader at a publishing firm, so they must — absolutely must — submit their very best work.

What to do?

Nurses do triage. Learn to do the same for your copy.

Treat your writing (or the author’s) like a scene of a natural disaster. Good but failed intentions amid disorganisation. It IS natural to have an emotional reaction to such a situation after the first reading of the document

Set it aside and re-read it later. Then you’ll begin to evaluate it more objectively (or at least less emotionally, though it is hard for some manuscripts).

After a couple of more spins at editing work, you’ll be able to separate your personal reaction (hah!) from your professional goal — to help the undeserving author communicate with the uncaring reader.

Editing is an instinctive and instinctual job. You have to rely on your ‘well-readedness’ and your instincts to produce copy that the sales agent next door could sell, and what your publisher tells you (which is often more right than wrong). The copy has to sell, or you won’t get paid. End of discussion.

Plenty of BAs and MAs in Journalism or (Un)Creative Writing are f@#king disastrous editors and have caused publishers and sales agents to lose lots of money. I’ve seen it first-hand. I’ve worked with some of the best in the editing/publishing business and, trust humble me, many solid editors are well read and highly literate but have no more than secondary education. A good editor has a sales instinct usually stronger than your pushy sales agent. If it doesn’t sell, you don’t get to edit the second edition. End of discussion.

I’m reminded of the time way back in my primordial youth of a business letter distributed by my father’s architectural practice. I was around 12 at the time and Dad just got me started drafting business correspondence, about two years ahead of my taking secretarial classes.

Anyway, this particular letter wasn’t written by me. Everyone in the office saw all of the faults and problems in the letter. They didn’t panic, give up on it or fetch out the editorial chainsaw. They determined the letter-writer’s intentions, got at the underlying meaning, and came up with more suitable words to convey the letter-writer’s meaning.

If the job of writing something even a little bit original is too much of a hassle for you (or for everybody else around you), consider getting a ghostwriter to do it for you. All round, it usually works out cheaper and more efficient for you.

(A ghostwriter produces books and articles on behalf of someone else, without their name appearing in the credits. If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know I’ve moonlighted as one.)


6. ‘Drama’ muscle ranking.

Trust me, this muscle ranking of who has the most ‘drama’ comes from years and years of suffering being in the publishing business.

Metallic, but muscles all the same

Those with the highest levels of ‘drama’ in wordswork are:—

  1. Grammarfreaks (who, incidentally, are terrible at organising the running order of their copy)
  2. Most academics are full of ‘drama.’ Fact. Should be self-evident if you’re over 16.
  3. Most ‘intellectual’ types or those in the more ‘intellectual’ disciplines (see below)
  4. Mostly academics or academicky types in liberal studies (who are not especially ‘liberal’), such as linguistics, sociology, philosophy, psychology, politics and languages (in that order)
  5. Educationists (who are not necessarily teachers or even educated themselves)
  6. People whose mother tongue isn’t the ‘target’ language — and the further the mother tongue is from the target language, the more ‘drama’ (so, say, a Chinese speaker is more melodramatic in English-language editorial work than would be a Polish speaker in the same)
  7. Marketing types
  8. MBAs (but not MAs in Finance and Banking)
  9. Hospital administrators
  10. Social workers

And the least dramatic (in decreasing order):—

  1. Medicine and related disciplines
  2. Mathematics nerds, geeks and weirdos
  3. Biology (botanists are less tight-arsed than zoologists, broadly speaking)
  4. Physics people (whose vocabulary are 95% terms of art, which helps)
  5. Chemistry people (whose vocabulary are 90% terms of art, which helps)
  6. Unpublished authors
  7. Published authors
  8. Editors and similar

Do you realise how goddamn long it took me in my miserable life to gem up that muscle ranking list?

Can you even imagine how much all this stuff here came from actual nightly sufferingly hands-on experience paid for in pittance?

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012.

Images: I Quit via c4c | Girls via c4c | Editing markup via afmarcom | Can’t Relate via Mauradat | Tired of doing it yourself via Write Essentials | Robot Maria from Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ (1927) via Jeffbots.

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