Last night in Sweden

One of the most widely noted aspects of Donald Trump's campaign rally yesterday in Florida was his reference to a terrorist incident the night before in Sweden:

You look at what's happening in Germany,
you look at what's happening last night in Sweden —
Who would believe this? Sweden!
They took in large numbers, they're having problems like they never thought possible.
You look at what's happening in Brussels,
you look at what's happening all over the world, take a look at Nice,
take a look at Paris.

Since no plausibly relevant incident actually occurred the previous evening in Sweden, some people have suggested that the president's remark might refer to a documentary mentioned the night before on Fox. (See also here.) But most of the reaction took the form of jokes, many of them available on Twitter as #LastNightInSweden.

My personal favorites identify Ikea as the instigator of terror:

or the defender against it:

Like that last one, some others made use of Scandinavian-associated letters:

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<p class="ljsyndicationlink"><a href=""></a></p><p>One of the most widely noted aspects of <a href="" target="_blank">Donald Trump's campaign rally yesterday in Florida</a> was his reference to a terrorist incident the night before in Sweden:</p> <div style="margin-left: 30px;"><lj-embed id="1953"/></div> <p style="margin-left: 30px; font-size: 10px;"><span style="color: #800000;">You look at what's happening in Germany,</span><br /> <span style="color: #800000;"> you look at what's happening last night in Sweden &#8212;</span><br /> <span style="color: #800000;"> Sweden!</span><br /> <span style="color: #800000;"> Who would believe this? Sweden!</span><br /> <span style="color: #800000;"> They took in large numbers, they're having problems like they never thought possible.</span><br /> <span style="color: #800000;"> You look at what's happening in Brussels,</span><br /> <span style="color: #800000;"> you look at what's happening all over the world, take a look at Nice,</span><br /> <span style="color: #800000;"> take a look at Paris.</span></p> <p>Since no plausibly relevant incident actually occurred the previous evening in Sweden, some people have suggested that the president's remark might refer to <a href="" target="_blank">a documentary mentioned the night before on Fox</a>. (See also <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.) But most of the reaction took the form of jokes, many of them available on Twitter as <a href=";q=%23LastNightInSweden" target="_blank">#LastNightInSweden</a>.</p> <p><span id="more-31195"></span></p> <p>My personal favorites identify Ikea as the instigator of terror:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="500"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">Scenes of appalling despair <a href="">#LastNightInSweden</a> <a href=""></a></p> <p>&mdash; Julian Power (@JueRobWilPo) <a href="">February 19, 2017</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async="async" src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p>or the defender against it:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="500"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">After the terrible events <a href="">#lastnightinSweden</a> , IKEA have sold out of this: <a href=""></a></p> <p>&mdash; Jeanna Skinner (@JeannaLStars) <a href="">February 19, 2017</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async="async" src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p>Like that last one, some others made use of Scandinavian-associated letters:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="500"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">My prayers and thoughts go to the people of Bøling Grön <a href="">#JeSuisIkea</a> <a href="">#lastnightinsweden</a> <a href=""></a></p> <p>&mdash; Postfaktisch<img src="" alt="&lt;img src=""=";" alt="&lt;img src=" class="wp-smiley" style="height: 1em; max-height: 1em;" /><img src="" alt="🇺" class="wp-smiley" style="height: 1em; max-height: 1em;" />" class="wp-smiley" style="height: 1em; max-height: 1em;" /> (@piarism) <a href="">February 19, 2017</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async="async" src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p>And there were several jokes about <a href="" target="_blank">surströmming</a>:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="500"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">Someone decided to open up Surströmming in a public place. <a href="">#LastNightInSweden</a> <a href="">#DonaldTrump</a> <a href=""></a></p> <p>&mdash; Kimberley (@MissMispeled) <a href="">February 19, 2017</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async="async" src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="500"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">Concern is rising over the possibility that the terrorists were looking for Swedish Biological Weapons. <a href="">#lastnightinsweden</a> <a href=""></a></p> <p>&mdash; Sarcastic Small (@PoliticoCryzis) <a href="">February 19, 2017</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async="async" src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p>Those who have not experienced this delicacy/weapon can learn more about its effects here:</p> <p><lj-embed id="1954"/></p> <p>There were the obligatory Swedish meatball references:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="500"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">It wasn&#39;t a pretty sight <a href="">#lastnightinsweden</a> <a href="">#DonaldTrump</a> <a href="">#jesuisikea</a> <a href=""></a></p> <p>&mdash; Dimitri Verbelen (@DimitriVerbelen) <a href="">February 19, 2017</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async="async" src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p>And of course this:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="500"> <p lang="en" dir="ltr">BREAKING NEWS. Swedish police have released picture of the man sought for the terror attack <a href="">#lastnightinsweden</a> <a href="">#swedenincident</a> <a href="">#TrumpRally</a> <a href=""></a></p> <p>&mdash; Neil Macdougall (@DougallChops) <a href="">February 19, 2017</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async="async" src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></p>

Marg bar ___

This is a guest post by Reza Mirsajadi, who previously published a version on Facebook.

For much of my adult life, whenever I have had to defend the Iranian people to conservatives, they have fought back with the "Death to America" argument. This more or less amounts to "They [Iranians] want to kill us, they said so!" I am so fed up with these misconceptions, and the news media and translators need to take responsibility for their part in it.

As someone who does a lot of translating, I understand that there is an ethical component to the craft. People rely on your work to understand the Other. For this reason, cultural context is absolutely imperative. The "Death to ___" chant commonly heard in Iranian political protests for well over sixty years, is a mistranslation. Yes, the Farsi word "marg" can translate to "death," but "marg bar ___" translates to "Down with ___", as you can see in the lead photo for the Guardian article "Iranians turn out in force for rallies after call for Trump response", 2/10/2017:

The Wikipedia article on the "Marg bar Âmrikâ" slogan shows a mural in Tehran with the same English translation:

Furthermore, the "down with ___" chant as it is used today is not about a violent overthrow or physically harming the people of a nation. The phrase became popular during the Persian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911), when political activists would chant "zende ba ___" ("long live ___") in support of a policy or leader, or "marg bar ___" in opposition. These two phrases became entrenched within Iranian political discourse, and during the Iranian Revolution of 1979, swarms of protestors took to the streets chanting "marg bar Shah" to express their dissatisfaction with Iran's monarchy. "Marg bar ___" and "zende ba ___" have continued to live on as colloquial phrases incorporated into political chants, and they have been appropriated to express opposition to or support for any number of subjects.

While the phrase "marg bar" has not made its way into most Farsi or Farsi-English dictionaries, it is commonly understood in Iran as an idiom without violent intent. In fact, the Farsi Wikipedia article for "marg bar America" explains that the phrase is not in reference to the American people or even the country as a whole, but instead discontent with American political policies and its intervention in the Middle East. When the Iranian people took to the streets last week to celebrate the anniversary of the revolution, the chants of "marg bar America" were not threats of violence or war, but rather anger over Trump's policies targeting Iranians and Muslims.

In covering that event, the 2/10/2017 Reuters article "Hundreds of thousands rally in Iran against Trump, chant 'Death to America'" follows in this tradition of Farsi-English translators for news media egregiously misrepresenting Iranian words and sentiments, which helps to engender the deep Islamophobia and hatred of the Middle East among much of the American people. The Guardian article that I cited earlier does a better job of representing the feelings of the Iranian people, although they still get some of it wrong. At least they address the fact that Iranians are deeply appreciative of the Americans who have come out in support of Muslims and opposed the immigration ban. And the New York Times' coverage of the event "Iran Celebrates its Revolution, and Thanks Some Americans" 2/10/2017, does an admirable job of changing the narrative on the phrase "marg bar ___" and conveying Iranians' true sentiments towards the American people.

The above is a guest post by Reza Mirsajadi.

All Trumped Up

Adam Wren, "'I'm Still All Trumped Up'", Politico Magazine 2/13/2017:

On the first Saturday of Donald Trump’s presidency, as protesters and marchers stormed the nation’s capital and cities around the country, Dick and Jane Ames threw a party. […]

“Oh, Trump—I’m still all Trumped up,” Jane, a retired insurance broker, told me, reveling in the memory of that night […]. Across the table, her husband Dick, 73, a former air traffic controller, smiled and nodded. 

I've assumed that it was the strong positive sense of trump as in "trump card" that led Donald Trump's ancestor to change his name from Drumpf to Trump, and the "trump card" sense clearly bolsters the branding value of the name. So why, I wondered, is "trumped up" normally a bad thing to be?

The OED gives three nouns and three verbs with this same spelling and pronunciation:

trump n.1: = trumpet

Etymology: Middle English <French trompe

trump n.2: A playing-card of that suit which for the time being ranks above the other three, so that any one such card can ‘take’ any card of another suit; spec. the card, usually that last turned up by the dealer, determining this suit; also, pl. (formerly also in sing.), the suit thus determined.

Etymology: Corruption of triumph

trump n.3: A thing of small value, a trifle; pl. goods of small value, trumpery.

Etymology: Back-formation < trumpery

trump v.1: To blow or sound a trumpet; To give forth a trumpet-like sound; spec. to break wind audibly

trump v.2To deceive, cheat

Etymology: <French tromper

trump v.3: Cards. To put a trump upon; to take with a trump.

Etymology: < trump n.2

The verb+preposition form trump up is listed under v.3, but from the gloss it seems to belong better to v.2:

trump up (trans.): To get up or devise in an unscrupulous way; to forge, fabricate, invent.

It's true that up adds a similar tinge of improvisation to combinations like dream up, conjure up, whip up, mock up; and a sense of abuse or damage in combinations like foul up, blow up, muck up, smash up, … But there are are positive examples as well, like prop up, clean up, lift up, …

Gambling Disturb Terrible

A friend of Anne Henochowicz spotted this T-shirt in an Akihabara, Tokyo shop:

The writing on the T-shirt says:

Hei ヘイ!("Hey!")

Shinzō シンゾー!!("Shinzoo" — Japan's prime minister's first name)

Oretachi dake de umaku yarou ze 俺たちだけでうまくやろうぜ!!("Let's handle the business by ourselves" — it's difficult for me to put this sentence into good English; it basically connotes something like "Let's not worry about other people and handle the business by ourselves")

Toranfu –> Toranpu 賭乱怖 ("Trump" — no, this is not the way Japanese transcribe "Trump"; it's always in katakana, namely "Toranpu トランプ").

They've simply used kanji to write the sounds of Trump's name so as to impart meaning to each syllable, the key to which is glossed on the sheet at the bottom of the T-shirt.

[Thanks to Nathan Hopson]


[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

Yes, the following image from the most recent Weekly Playboy (週刊プレイボーイ Shūkan Pureibōi; not a regional edition of Hugh Hefner's Playboy), is labeled "Poop":

I'm not sure whether to be relieved or further dismayed by the fact that this appears to be a nickname ("nom de loo?") or other sort of descriptor for Amaki Jun, the model featured in this photo. That she is squatting only adds to my confusion.

The nickname "Poop" is an acronym. The corresponding Japanese words are contained within each of the English letters:

P: Professional
o: of
o: oppai (roughly, "boobs")
p: player

I'm not certain what the "player" refers to. The placement of the two os is easier to fathom.

Undoubtedly, someone, perhaps at Shūpure, as it's known, thought that the word "poop" sounded cute. And I suppose that's true, so far as it goes. But that doesn't make this any less cringeworthy.

More than cat videos

Girls With Slingshots for 9/18/2014:

The best part is Danielle Corsetto's note about creating this strip:

I wound up killing a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook asking people to share their grammatical pet peeves to use in today's strip. Jesus, that received more opinions and reactions than most of my cat videos do! Did you hear me? MORE THAN CAT VIDEOS

I don't think that I saw that note at the time the strip was published, but by a stroke of minor cosmic synchronicity, I noticed a different instance of the same phenomenon just two days earlier: "At the peevers' jamboree", 9/16/2014.

My point of comparison was much less striking, though — I merely noted that a Guardian Books article that invited readers to share their favorite "grammatical" peeves got 2,082 comments in one day (2,774 before they shut off the spigot), compared to the previous five articles, which got a total of 153 comments among them.


"Evidence, data and reasoning"

Now that a black man is no longer president, George Will has stopped obsessing about presidential overuse of first-person singular pronouns, and has turned his attention to other pressing matters, such as the role of liberal higher education in promoting the political ascension of Donald Trump ("Trump and academia actually have a lot in common", 1/27/2017):

Much attention has been given to the non-college-educated voters who rallied to President Trump. Insufficient attention is given to the role of the college miseducated. They, too, are complicit in our current condition because they emerged from their expensive “college experiences” neither disposed nor able to conduct civil, informed arguments. They are thus disarmed when confronted by political people who consider evidence, data and reasoning to be mere conveniences and optional.

"Evidence, data, and reasoning". Good to hear that Mr. Will remains committed in principle to the virtues that he routinely subverts in practice.

Following up on Will's often-expressed interest in (Barack Obama's) pronouns, I've added counts from Donald Trump's 2/16/2017 press conference to the counts from three previous presidents' first press conference or two, which I presented in "Fact-checking George F. Will", 6/7/2009:

# Words # "I" # First-person singular pronouns
Clinton 6935 218 (3.1%) 275 (3.9%)
G.W. Bush 6681 239 (3.6%) 300 (4.5%)
Obama  7775  163 (2.1%)  206 (2.6%
Trump  12147  495 (4.1%)  581 (4.8%)

Why does this matter? Not because pronoun use is a reliable symptom of "narcissism" or other personality disorders, but rather rather because it's worth underlining, yet again, the gulf between George Will's assertions and easily checked facts.  Considering his own decades of bullshitting (in the technical philosophical sense), it's marvelously ironic for Will to blame the post-fact era on the "myriad intellectual viruses thriving in academia", where "declining academic rigor" produces pampered students who "do not know what it is to know something".

In fairness to Mr. Will, I should point out that he did once mention that Donald Trump "uses the first-person singular pronoun even more than the previous world-record holder (Obama)" . But as Fred Vultee pointed out  at the time ("More BS from George F. Will", 8/28/2015), that statement contains not only the explicit falsehood that Obama was "the previous world-record holder", but also the falsehood-by-implication that Donald Trump is historically exceptional in terms of this stupid metric — in fact he's about even with Bush Sr. and Dwight Eisenhower, and behind Harry Truman.

While every dishonest pundit is dishonest in his or her own way, the frequent assertion of easily-checked falsehoods is not unique to George Will. See "Reality v. Brooks", 6/15/2015, for discussion of another case, where I observed that "there's a high correlation between success as a pundit and skill at coming up with evocative factoids — with apparently no loss of points for fabricating them". My conclusion:

It tells you something about our culture, I think, that Brooks' style has not been in any way affected by documentation of his carelessness and outright fabrications. Bullshit sells.

This is apparently also true in the political arena — but let's put the historical blame where it belongs.



As soon as I saw the reports about the mobile PaPaPa vans roaming the streets of Chengdu (see "PaPaPa" [2/15/17]), I immediately thought of a similar expression with a similar meaning that I heard forty years ago.  On that occasion, someone described to me the actions of a man who was trying (unsuccessfully) to get an erection as "PiaPiaPia".  Since that was the first time I had heard that expression, I didn't know for sure what it meant, but I could pretty well guess.

The person who used that expression spoke the purest, clearest Pekingese I have ever heard, but what struck me particularly about "PiaPiaPia" is that the sounds of which it is composed are not included in the standard inventory of possible Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) syllables.

Even though theoretically "pia" is not a permissible MSM syllable, still it is widely spoken.  The question arises of how to write this word in the spoken language in characters.  The usual way is simply to use Pinyin:  pia.  Some people say it is 1st tone, some say it is 4th tone.  It is onomatopoeia for the sound of slapping.  It is often used with reference to slapping someone in the face and can also be used to describe someone making a pratfall.  It usually occurs in threes:  piapiapia!

The online encyclopedias baike has an article about the origin of this expression (from the Northeast / Manchuria) and the consternation people feel over how to write it.  Some people resort to the Sinographic makeshift of pā 啪, and there have been other attempts to write "pia" with characters, but they are all unsatisfying to those for whom "piapia" or "piapiapia" is a kǒutóuchán 口头禅 ("stock / pet phrase; mantra; favorite expression").  Most people simply use Pinyin and write it as "pia".

The Baidu encyclopedia article on "piapia" is brief and confusing.

Here are some other buzzwords that are outside of the standard syllabic inventory for MSM and do not have a fixed orthography in characters:

“biaji-biaji” — used in connection with noisy eating, especially with regard to people smacking their lips; akin to “om nom nom” in English (where did THAT come from?); sometimes written as bāji bāji 吧唧吧唧 ("yum[my] yum[my]")

"QQ" — ubiquitously written just like that, but theoretically might be pinyinized as kiūkiū (that's the way it is typically pronounced); for the various meanings and derivation of QQ, see "A New Morpheme in Mandarin" (4/26/11)

"muà" — a kissing sound, borrowed from English "mwah"; I don't know of any attempts to write this in Chinese characters.

Here are some earlier posts on words of this type:

"Kiss kiss / BER: Chinese photoshop victim" (7/22/14)

"Duang" (3/1/15)

"More on "duang"" (3/19/15)

"Creeping Romanization in Chinese" (8/30/12)

"Nerd, geek, PK: Creeping Romanization (and Englishization), part 2" (3/5/13)

"Writing Chinese characters as a form of punishment" (11/1/15)

"The Awful Chinese Writing System" (Geoffrey Pullum, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/20/16)

When Mandarin speakers resort to Pinyin to write sounds and morphemes that do not exist in the standard syllable inventory for MSM, that is one important factor in the emerging digraphia to which we have often referred here on Language Log and elsewhere.

[Thanks to David Moser, Jonathan Smith, Brendan O'Kane, Fangyi Cheng, Yixue Yang, and Jinyi Cai]

"Dick voice": Annoying voices and gender stereotypes

During the 2016 presidential campaign, there was a lot of negative commentary about Hillary Clinton's voice. Some examples from across the political spectrum are compiled and discussed here, and even-the-liberal-The-Atlantic published on "The Science Behind Hating Hillary's Voice".  Since Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump pretty much got a pass for vocal characteristics analogous to Hillary's, it was suggested more than once that the criticism was sexist, most creatively in this reprise of Shout by Dominique Salerno and Laura Hankin.

In fact, considering how many people have criticized aspects of Donald Trump's speaking style, it's striking that there's been so little discussion of his tone of voice as opposed to his rhetorical style and content. But this balance is distinctly different for his senior advisor Stephen Miller — see Kali Holloway, "What makes Trump advisor Stephen Miller so unlikeable?", Salon 2/15/2017. That article leads with a collection of video clips from Miller's recent interviews — here's the audio track:

Holloway's evaluation of those clips is strongly negative, and also distinctly gendered:

If you caught any of those appearances, you may have noticed a few Miller trademark gestures. Empty, reptilian eyes scanning left to right over cue cards. A pouty mouth delivering each insane untruth. And a voice that sounds like every hyper-unlikable, pompous, joyless, self-important authority-on-everything you’ve ever met. Or as Katie McDonough of Fusion puts it, “he has the voice of someone who is a dick.”

The link takes us to Katie McDonough, "Why does Stephen Miller sound like such a dick? A voice coach explains", Fusion 2/13/2017:

Stephen Miller sounds like a dick.  

A person could mean this in the ad hominem sense, surely. He is one of the architects behind the xenophobic and exceedingly dickish Muslim ban that was recently blocked by a federal appeals court. As a high school student, he wrote dick letters to the editor that complained about receiving class communications in English and Spanish. In college, he was a dick about racism and sexism and gave his column in the student newspaper the very dick name, “Miller Time.”  

But Miller also sounds like a dick in a more direct sense. He has the voice of someone who is a dick.


Watching Miller, a stranger, I was struck by the familiarity of his dick voice. I know this dick, I thought.  

Curious if there is such a thing as a quantifiable dick voice, I reached out to John West, the head of speech coaching at New York Speech Coaching, to get some perspective. West works with CEOs, hedge fund managers, politicians, and actors to help them become more effective speakers. He also, presumably, helps them to not sound like dicks.

McDonough's voice-coach interviewee is somewhat evasive on the gender-stereotype issue:

Q: We talk about vocal fry and upspeak as these ways of critiquing women’s speech and voices, but is “asshole voice” a differently gendered version of this?  

A: And if we were at all concerned about what will we can call this type, thank you for putting that to rest. I think we have landed on this now and I look forward to you making this the next big thing in vocal pop culture.  

Yes, asshole speak, sure. I think that, again, a big part of what we espouse and try to dissect as speech professionals is where things fall on the gamut. As soon as we try to reduce things to black and white we do get ourselves locked into our biases.

You can read the whole interview and see what you think.

My own impression is that the expert's comments are mostly subjective ones, which may be correct, but as a whole leave the quantification of "dick voice" (or the less implicitly gendered "asshole voice") as a task for speech scientists of the future. There's been a lot of work on "sentiment analysis" or "emotion classification" from voice (and video), but remarkably little on personality projection. Maybe a workshop at Interspeech 2018?

Miller's tone (and content as well) have engendered similarly strong reactions elsewhere. Monday morning on MSNBC, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were temporarily speechless after presenting a couple of minutes of Miller Sunday-show highlights:

In the past, I've been skeptical about the gender association of phenomena like uptalk and vocal fry — or at least concerned about the lack of evidence and the danger of confirmation bias for stereotypes. And I'll take the same attitude towards "asshole voice", whatever exactly it is — let's wait until we have some evidence before concluding that it's a guy thing rather than an asshole thing.

For more of Stephen Miller in context, here's his full 2/12/2017 appearance on Fox:</p>

Update — Gail Collins writes that Stephen Miller "sounds like a really unpopular college sophomore complaining about his grades", linking to this ABC News interview:

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos


My, my! What does the signage on this van in Chengdu, Sichuan Province (China) say?

From: "Chinese firm ordered to remove sexually suggestive Valentine’s Day advertisements" (SCMP, 2/15/17).

Qíngrén jié yídòng chē 情人节移动PaPa车 ("Valentine's Day Mobile PaPa Van")

zhāoshǒu jí tíng 招手即停 ("stops when hailed")

You're probably wondering what "PaPa" (or "PaPaPa", as at the top of the van in the middle) means.  To be blunt, it's internet slang for "having sex".

The Chengdu Bureau for Industry and Commerce, upon receiving complaints about the signage on the vans (there were two of them roaming the city streets like ice cream trucks) ordered the start-up that operated the vans to remove the advertisements, whereupon the owners covered up the objectionable parts with cardboard.

BTW, this is another in our long series of posts featuring multiscriptal signs.

[h.t. Mark Metcalf]