Archive for October, 2012

CONTEXTUAL MEANING

October 25, 2012

Most bilingual dictionaries define the American slang “shuck and jive” as something like “misrepresentation, deception, eyewash, cock-and-bull story, etc.” (that is, when you translate the foreign part of the definition back into English). If to be limited by the limitations of two-language dictionaries, a learner of English may not understand why President Obama’s team could be sensitive to Sarah Palin’s words when the latter accused him of “shuck-and-jiving” while handling the attack in Benghazi (http://www.facebook.com/notes/sarah-palin/obamas-shuck-and-jive-ends-with-benghazi-lies/10151118681228435 ). Chris Matthews, an anchor at the television show Hardball, said that this expression has a “particular ethnic connotation.” I made a brief search through some monolingual dictionaries and encyclopaedias to find that “to shuck and jive” originally referred to the intentionally misleading words and actions that African-Americans would employ in order to deceive racist Euro-Americans in power, both during the period of slavery and afterwards. The expression was documented as being in wide usage in the 1920s, but may have originated much earlier. “Shucking and jiving” was a tactic of both survival and resistance. A slave, for instance, could say eagerly, “Oh, yes, Master,” and have no real intention to obey. Or an African-American man could pretend to be working hard at a task he was ordered to do, but might put up this pretense only when under observation. Both would be instances of “doin’ the old shuck ‘n jive.”
It has been adopted into non-Afro-American speech, with a reference to behavior adopted in order to avoid criticism, e.g. In order to keep my job, I had to do the shuck and jive! It is this, more extended meaning of the word that the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate meant when she responded to the accusation:

there was nothing remotely racist in my use of the phrase ‘shuck and jive’—a phrase which many people have used, including Chris Matthews, Andrew Cuomo, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to name a few off the top of my head….In fact, Andrew Cuomo also used the phrase in reference to Barack Obama, and the fact that Mr. Cuomo and I used the phrase in relation to President Obama signifies nothing out of the ordinary. I would have used the exact same expression if I had been writing about President Carter, whose foreign policy rivaled Obama’s in its ineptitude, or about the Nixon administration, which was also famously rocked by a cover-up. I’ve been known to use the phrase most often when chastising my daughter Piper to stop procrastinating and do her homework. As she is part Yup’ik Eskimo, I’m not sure if this term would be deemed offensive when it’s directed at her or if it would be considered benign as in the case of Chris Matthews’ use of it in reference to Rachel Maddow. Just to be careful, from now on I’ll avoid using it with Piper, and I would appreciate it if the media refrained from using words and phrases like igloo, Eskimo Pie, and “when hell freezes over,” as they might be considered offensive by my extended Alaska Native family.” (http://www.facebook.com/sarahpalin/posts/10151232848473588 )

 

I consulted my daughter, who had lived in the U.S.A. for quite some time, about how the Americans use the expression “shuck and jive”. She said that there was nothing offensive if this word combination was used either in an “only-black” or “only-white” community. However, in a white person’s talk referring to an Afro-American, the expression could acquire some “undesirable connotations” and should, probably, be avoided within the framework of political correctness.

A finishing detail: when African Americans heard former President Bill Clinton call Barack Obama a “kid”, that was seen as an insult. Mr. Obama was a 46-year-old man who was a United States senator. It was remindful of grown black men being called “boy” during the Jim Crow era. Seemingly, no harm was done, but … the context has meaning.

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WHAT CHAIR?

October 25, 2012

Today my wife and I talked with our daughter on skype. The last few days she had been busy setting an exam in economics for her students, and today the exam was given. When asked how the students had written the exam, Yasya shrugged her shoulders: it’s too early to say before the papers are checked. I remembered a story about a professor who told his philosophy class to prove – applying their knowledge of the subject – that the chair which was standing in the classroom right before them DID NOT actually exist. The students wrote for about two hours trying to deny the reality, but the winner was a student who had written only two sentences: “What chair? Don’t see any.”

My humorous advice to Yasya was to recognize the answer “An exam? What sort of exam?” (should this kind of answer appear) as the MOST ORIGINAL (if not the best) examination paper.

THE COUNTRY OF PINOCCHIOS

October 20, 2012

Of late there have appeared many such booths in Kyiv. Their supply is stimulated by the ever growing demand for them. In the country, which is deprived of hope, hope is smoldering in people’s hearts. This is the hope of Buratinos (Buratino is an alias of  Pinocchio from Carlo Collodi’s play “Adventures of Pinocchio”). In his time, Buratino buried five coins in the ground, and patiently waited over them until a “money tree” would grow in the City of Fools. The masked Cat and Fox, who were after Buratino’s money, cut short his anticipation of the sweet future.

Some ten minutes before I took a picture of this elderly lady, I saw her at a neighboring bottle-collection center when I was going to a newspaper kiosk to buy my traditional set of weeklies. I pitied the lady at that moment: she had managed to collect a few dozens of empty bottles. Each bottle cost 15 kopecks and the collection center.

On my way back home with a bunch of weeklies in my hand  I saw the same old lady and her “kravchuchka” (hand-made cart) again. The lady was buying…  a lottery ticket! 

Cat Basilio and Fox Alice know the psychology of the Ukrainian Pinocchio. 

…BEGINS AT HOME

October 19, 2012

When asked what one can do to promote world peace, Mother Teresa answered: “Go home and love your family.” I remembered this quote when I came across a memo I had written for my son who was leaving his parents’ home in August 1991 to do his university studies in another city. In that note I had advised him on what I thought should be his first steps in the big city and at a university which was rightly considered to be one of the best schools in the country.

Attending all lectures… Books in which notes of professors’ lectures are taken should have enough space for your own commentaries… Regular work at the library… One day of the week should be set free for arranging personal matters (“to wash things, think a thought, write a letter”)… Healthy meals…Sports every day… English every day… Signing up for the Students’ Research Society…

Those were the words of recommendation – not instruction or command. Sooner or later, our children took in their parents’ advice and made it an integral part of their attitudes. It had been like that all the years when they lived with us.

How does it relate to world peace? Our son and daughter are now living and working in different parts of the world. As university professors they meet a lot of people (especially young people), who are open to what is good in this world. And I’m sure that both Bogdan and Yasya – through the values they built up in their parents’ home – are contributing to the atmosphere of responsibility, search for knowledge, high standards, honest work, perfectionism… And also positiveness of approach, mutual understanding, respect, trust… Not the last things to secure peace in this world.


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