Some links

A few interesting things from the old year:

A look back at the “Sokal hoax,” an event of  the mid-90s that made it possible for me to stop studying Deconstructionism. (Michael Bérubé)*

“Etymology is perhaps the most intellectually frustrating field of study because, as a general rule, all clever theories about the origin of any word are wrong. The real explanation is always something boring and senseless, like “from a West Frisian word for turnip greens.”” (Sailer)**

In an interview about herself, Alison Bechdel says that when she was a child, pop culture images of women always emphasized their femininity, so that they were “not generic, they were always female people.”  (Alison Bechdel)***

*I was in grad school in classics back then.

**I think it’s interesting when a word comes from a West Frisian word for turnip greens, in the same way that a geologist might think it’s interesting that a rock found in one place originated a mile away.  The information may not make the rock prettier to look at or more satisfying to hold or more useful as a building element, but it exposes historical connections that may well unlock more secrets.

***One of the things that has always interested me about Latin is that the Romans had a truly generic term for human being, homo, hominis, which apparently derived in turn from an Indo-European root that meant “earthling.”  Yet the Romans had virtually no desire to make generalizations about human beings as such.  They were far more interested in men and women, compatriots and foreigners, free and slave, kin and stranger, noble and common, and other subcategories.   English, on the other hand, has no truly generic term for human being; “human” sounds too much like “man” to be gender neutral, and the political origin of the word “people” (as in “the people”) suggests both national and class identity.  Yet English speakers often seem desperate to find a way to refer to human beings as such, so desperate that they will claim in all seriousness that the word “man” can be gender neutral.

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