My Humble Request to Amend the English Language

I have realized a serious shortcoming within the English language: we have no word to describe someone who speaks sarcasm fluently, which I believe is a serious lapse in linguistic breadth.

In the current iteration of the English language, we have an adverb to say that something was said "sarcastically," or an adjective to describe a particular turn of phrase as being "sarcastic," or a noun to denote "sarcasm" itself as a form of bitter irony, but we have no way to properly identify the person who employs sarcasm to communicate.

On the contrary, someone who is speaking "satirically" is labeled a "satirist," though that word does not adequately describe someone who is speaking sarcastically.

Therefore, I propose that the word "sarcastinator" be added to the English language. I think this simple linguistic addition will do well to recognize the talents of those who are proficient in the fine art of sarcasm, and begin to reconcile the years of oversight and neglect that sarcastinators have endured within conversational circles.

To that end, I welcome your participation in promoting "sarcastinator" to the English speaking nations of the world, because I care about your participation.

Really.

If only you could hear the sincerity with which I am asking for your support.

I-Speak-Fluent-Sarcasm

Excuse My French

As a military brat, the scenario depicted in the following image could easily have played itself out in our household when I was growing up. Winking smile

Excuse my French

Although I must admit, in the years since my exit from the Army (where I had been serving as a military linguist), I have found the ability to utter colorful vocabulary in foreign languages extremely beneficial during times of crisis... though I am careful to choose a language that is not likely to be understood by the people around me.

Open-mouthed smile

Learning the Local Language

Growing up in Tucson, Arizona, I never bothered to lean Spanish. I had plenty of opportunities, though. Spanish was offered in all the schools, and I ventured south of the border on a handful of occasions through border towns like Nogales. But the main reason why I never bothered to learn more than a few words in Spanish was because I resented the fact that so many people were coming across the southern border and insisting that I learn Spanish to speak with them, instead of learning English to speak with me in my own country.

It frustrated me to no end that everything in Tucson was required to be printed in both languages; I thought that this was laziness on "their" part. Meanwhile, I studied German in High School, because I was certain that German was going to be a useful language in a state where the two spoken languages were English and Spanish. (Hint: Sarcasm.)

But then a weird thing happened: I joined the Army to become a Russian Linguist in the mid-1980s, and I was sent to the the Defense Language Institute (DLI) to learn the Russian language. After I graduated from two years of military training, I was sent to Germany for the next several years. (As it turns out, my years of studying German had actually paid off. Who would have thought?)

However, while I was stationed in Germany, I noticed an odd thing happening: a lot of the American GIs who were stationed there never picked up the German language, and many of the Germans appeared to have no knowledge of English. But here's the odd part about that: I discovered later that most of those Germans actually spoke English. I got to know some German friends while I was stationed there, and they told me that they resented the fact that Americans were "too lazy to learn the local language," so they pretended like they didn't know English. But by the late 1980s, all students were required to study English in the local German schools, so it is no stretch of the imagination to say that pretty much everyone spoke a modicum of English.

It reminds me of the following video:

That being said, I could speak the German language on a passable level, and most Germans were very forgiving of my frequent mistakes because they could see that I was making an effort. I remember botching my order at a restaurant, and my waitress coldly retorted in condescending English, "I can speak English!" To which I replied in fluent German, "Yes, but we're in Germany, and I want to speak German in Germany." This caught her off guard, and her attitude improved greatly; for the rest of the evening we spoke nothing but the local language. And that was largely my experience while stationed in Germany; most Germans spoke a bit of English, and yet most Germans respected my efforts when I attempted to interact with them in their native tongue.

Although I have to say, there was one woman that I knew in passing when I was stationed in Germany who NEVER learned any English.

Here's her story:

My wife and I lived off post in a tiny German village, and there was an older woman who took her evening walks around the time that I arrived home from work each day. And by "older," I mean that she was in her 80s, and I was stationed in Germany during the late 1980s. In other words, she was in her 40s when WWII ended in 1945, which means that I represented an "occupying force" in her eyes. I was a visible, constant reminder of everything she hated.

I already knew a bit of German when I arrived, of course, but I continued to learn German while I was stationed there, and I would always greet the old woman by at least waving and saying, "Hi." By the end of my first year, I received nothing from her but the evil eye treatment. For the second year, her apparent loathing of me was reduced to a passing, disapproving glance. By the third year, she had met my wife and young daughters several times as they went through the village on their own walks; the old woman LIKED them, so eventually I would receive a smileless shrug in exchange for my more elegant greetings.

When my wife and I finally left Germany sometime during our fourth year, the old woman still wouldn't talk to me, but she would at least make an effort to stop and wave in return. There was still no smile, of course, but I think she viewed me less and less as a potential enemy... even if I kind of was the enemy. I would like to think that in the end, the efforts my wife and I made to assimilate ourselves into the local culture yielded a grudging respect from her.

Nevertheless, when my wife and I returned home from Germany, we returned to Arizona, and my former resentment over the local language was long gone. By that time I had interacted with and experienced multiple cultures, and I had learned the value of making an effort where language is concerned. Oh sure, I meet the occasional person who has lived here for more than a decade and still insists that they haven't learned any English. I'm willing to bet that they're not being entirely truthful, but I learned during my tenure as a linguist that not all languages are equal, and as it turns out - English is a terrible language to learn if you weren't born here. On the other hand, Spanish is considerably easier to learn, for just about anyone.

So in the end, these days I make a conscious effort to speak Spanish when I have the chance, and I appreciate it when visitors who travel across the southern border make a conscious effort to speak a little English from time to time.


POSTSCRIPT:

As my wife and I have continued to travel the globe, I have always made an effort to pick up something of the local language wherever we go. Of course, the depth of my learning is usually just enough to greet people, to understand basic directions, to purchase something, and to order food. I learned enough French to get by in France, enough Italian to get around in Italy, and even a basic understanding of some common Tahitian phrases when I was in French Polynesia. I would never say that my language skills were anything more than the most basic of levels in any of those languages, but still - I made an effort, and it was always appreciated.

The Shrimp of my Father

Spanish is more or less the fourth language that I've learned, and recent experience has reminded me that I'm a little out of practice.

I was trying to tell my middlest daughter about Linda Ronstadt's "Canciones de mi Padre" album, but what I said was "Camarones de mi Padre."

Caramones-de-mi-Padre

While that may be amusing, it just isn't the same...

Open-mouthed smile

English isn't English

A colleague recently reminded me of George Bernard Shaw's famous quote that "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." I have lived through many situations where I have experienced that sentiment firsthand. And with that in mind, I'd like to share a story about a conversation that I had when I was working with the British RAF:

RAF: "You troffing today?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Yamming?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Nose-bagging?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Scoffing?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Bucking & gagging?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Are you eating lunch?"

ME: "Yes."

Propaganda and Purges and the Death of Stalin

Here is a simple thought from Voltaire on the 66th anniversary of Josef Stalin's death: "It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." Of course, Voltaire was not referring to Stalin directly, since Voltaire passed away 200 years before Stalin was born. However, Voltaire's observation is apropos when we consider the effectiveness of Communist propaganda on public opinion during Stalin's lifetime.

The text in the following photo reads, "Народы чтут память вождя," which translates as, "The people honor the memory of their leader." The mourners in that photo were obviously staged for propaganda purposes, but still - few people who haven't studied Russian history fail to realize how many Russians loved Stalin, even though he put nearly three times as many of his own citizens to death as the Nazis.

Stalins-Mourners

Stalin's level of adulation was primarily due to the USSR's disinformation machine, which spent years elevating Stalin's cult of personality to epic proportions. For many Russians, Stalin was their hero, their savior, their loving parent, and the sole victor of WWII.

When I was studying Russian, I was once involved in a heated discussion with one of my instructors. (In Russian, of course). She had recently defected from the Soviet Union, and she had yet to learn some of the actual facts about her own country; she only knew the propaganda that she had heard in her childhood. All the other students in the class were backing my discussion points, when the instructor broke down and started crying while lamentably exclaiming, "But I'm Russian! I should know my own history!" All I could say was, "Yes - you should know your history. But you need to visit a library, because you've been deceived." (It's amazing that our group of students didn't get in trouble for making an instructor cry.)

Stalin

While it is inarguable that every industrialized nation - to include the United States - has used propaganda to further its respective agenda, Communist nations like the USSR (and a few of its Communist allies) used a two-phase approach of propaganda coupled together with purges in order to subdue their populations. Propaganda is, of course, the use of state-controlled media to feed a carefully-constructed narrative to the masses, and purges are used to: a) reduce the numbers of those who are too intelligent [and therefore a perceived threat to the state], and b) terrify those who are left alive into silence.

Propaganda and purges were used with particular effectiveness and ruthlessness in Stalinist-era Russia, the result of which was that the average Russian - the peasants, the hawkers in the streets, the poorly-educated, and the bulk of the population - actually believed the lies. And why not? The propaganda is all they knew from what little education they had, and there were no other sources of information. The press and the media were both controlled by the Communists, and those who possessed enough knowledge to put up an intelligent argument were either killed or imprisoned.

large_1531048734stalin_cremlin

While I may agree that the US and its allies have certainly used one form of propaganda or other, the "state" controls neither our press nor our media, nor have we resulted to purges in order to wipe out mass segments of a dissatisfied population. As a result, we have had both the knowledge and the freedom to say, "This president sucked," or "That president sucked," or "We should vote every member of Congress out of office and start over."

propagandademotivator

To clarify what I said earlier when I was discussing Communist purges, I wasn't referring only to Stalin's purges - I was also referring to Lenin's Communist purges, and Mao's Communist purges, and the North Vietnamese Communist purges, and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge's Communist purges, and Cuba's Communist purges, and the North Korea's Communist purges, and Eastern Europe's Communist purges, etc. It is a concrete statement of fact that in nearly every state where the Communists gained power during the 20th century, whole populations of people were eradicated. Communism has emerged as the single-greatest cause of deaths in human history; more than all the disparate diseases and wars combined.

And yet, whenever these purges are mentioned, some addle-brained miscreant who hasn't cracked open a history book will proffer a comparison to the "post-WW2 demonization of Communists in the West," which resulted in a handful of arrests for acts of treason or conspiring to commit treason, and a few deportations, and a few misguided defections to the East, and several pro-Communist Hollywood script writers losing their jobs. Let me be clear, if anyone thinks that the post-WWII Red Scare was anywhere near the level of a Communist purge, then they have not been paying attention to history. The documented deaths of over 100 million people during the Communist purges of the 20th century are a genocide of epic proportions. There is simply no comparison between the complete eradication of entire populations in the name of Communism and the meager number of arrests that were made during the Communist scares of the 1920s and 1950s.

For what it's worth, I learned the Russian language from teachers who had defected from the Soviet Union, and I learned first-hand of how they had suffered under Communism. Later, I was the translator for Russian defectors in Germany during the 1980s, and I heard their personal stories of why they were forced to flee for their lives. I met and spoke with several members of the Soviet Military prior to the fall of Communism, and learned of how atrocious their living conditions were. I learned Spanish from a woman who had defected from Cuba, and she told stories of her horrifying treatment by the Communists who ruined her country. I interviewed a man who had lived 10 years in a Communist gulag, where his only crime was fighting for freedom of speech. I attended Russian schools in Western Europe that were founded by and staffed with Soviet defectors, and I listened to their lectures on the many follies and failures of Communism. One of my Russian teachers had been a popular actress in the Soviet Union during her youth, and her husband was one of the Soviet Union's acclaimed directors... until they defected, and then their names were wiped clean from the pages of Russian history. She and I watched one of her movies together, where her name was stripped from the credits despite her appearance in the film, and her husband's name was removed as the director despite his work on the project. That being said, every other actor and actress involved in the film who stayed in the Soviet Union was dead - some were sent to gulags, some were arrested and never heard from again, and others killed themselves rather than continue to live under Communist rule.

These people whom I have mentioned were not faceless people from history books, these were actual Russians whom I befriended during a lifetime of studying the consequences of Communism and its caustic effects on society. If anyone cannot see the difference between the personal sufferings that I have described and the perceived injustices that were endured by a handful of people during our government's infatuation with chasing down Communists who had infiltrated Washington DC and Hollywood, then let me be very clear: those crimes are not equal in the annals of history. Charging someone with treason because they belong to organizations that are plotting to overthrow the country is not the same as killing millions of people because you disagree with their politics.

Returning to my earlier discussion of propaganda, here is an additional thought: I was physically present on the East German border when several people lost their lives attempting the flee their Communist captors. If Communist nations were lands of Golden Opportunity as Communist propaganda actively promoted, then why were people willing to risk their lives to leave those countries? If Communism had created Utopian Societies, then why did millions of people need to be slaughtered?

All of this discussion is academic, of course. Communism has emerged as the worst ideology to infect humanity in history, and anyone who believes otherwise merely stands to gain something from it.

Having taxed my readers' patience enough, I am reminded that it's time to watch one of my favorite movies: "The Death of Stalin."

Open-mouthed smile


UPDATE: This post is one of several that I had written, which I later discovered had never been set to "public."