LINGUIST List 4.683

Thu 09 Sep 1993

Disc: More cross-cultural fun

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , inappropriate English
  2. Lisa Reed, more fun
  3. Natalie Maynor, Re: 4.666 More fun: inappropriate English
  4. "Anne M Loring-1", Re: 4.666 More fun: inappropriate English
  5. , RE: 4.652 More Fun

Message 1: inappropriate English

Date: Sun, 05 Sep 1993 19:09:39 inappropriate English
From: <>
Subject: inappropriate English

So far, we've been working with a definition of "inappropriate
English" that goes something like: English used by nonnative speakers
in a way that seems inappropriate to native speakers." But what about
English used by native speakers of one variety of English that seems
inappropriate to speakers of another variety?

One such example is discussed by Martin Amis in his review of John
Bly's "Iron John: A Book About Men" ("Return of the Male," London Times,
February 7, 1993). Amis's exegesis is so elegant, it would be a shame
to paraphrase, so here are the relevant paragraphs:

 _Iron John,_ a short work of psychological, literary and
anthropological speculation by the poet Robret Bly, `dominated' the
New York Times best-seller list for nearly a year, and has made, as we
shall see, a heavy impact on many aspects of American life. It has not
done so well over here. For this there are many reasons, but let us
begin with the most trivial. _Iron John_ runs into trouble - into
outright catastrophe - with the first word of its title. I don't know
why I find this quite so funny (what's WRONG with me?); I don't know
why I still scream with laughter every time I think about it. Is it the
spectacle of Bly's immediate self-defeat? Or is it because the title
itself so firmly establishes the cultural impossibility of taking
_Iron John_ straight? Anyway, here's the difficulty: iron is rhyming
slang for `male homosexual'. Just as ginger (ginger beer) means
`queer', so, I'm afraid, iron (iron hoof) means `poof'.
 At my local sports club in Paddington, where I do most of my male
bonding, there is much talk about irons. Not long ago I joined in a
conversation whose notional aim was to select an iron football team.
The mood was earnest rather than hostile, and we didn't get very far
with this particular team sheet. `Chairman: Elton John. Elton IS an
iron, isn't he?' `Centre-forward: Justin Fashanu. HE'S an iron. He
came clean about it in the _Sun._' So I can easily conjure the fickle
leers that would await me if, one morning, I walked into the club
saying: `Well, guys - there's a new book about men that says we should
take all our clothes off and rough-house in the woods. It says we
should hang out more with older men. It's called _Iron John._

Joan C. Cook
Department of Linguistics
Georgetown University
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Message 2: more fun

Date: Mon, 06 Sep 93 11:57:13 EDmore fun
From: Lisa Reed <>
Subject: more fun

Reading Ian MacKay's example involving the translation of "Gentle cycle
machine wash" into French as "Aimable bicyclette machine pour laver"
reminded me that there is actually a show here in Canada called Metropolis
which collects such examples, broadcasting them under the heading "Le
francais heavy metal" = Heavy Metal French. The show is hosted by a
comedian named JiCi Lauzon with a format roughly equivalent to that of The
Tonight Show. If your example is selected you get a prize - a T-shirt, I
think. Anyway, for anyone interested in trying, just send your "perle"
 JiCi Radio Canada
 Emission Metropolis
 Case Postale 6000
 Station "A"
 Montreal, Quebec
 H3C 3A8

P.S. They accept not only examples like the preceding, but also
 ones which are totally incomprehensible, like Nancy Frishberg's.

Lisa Reed
University of Ottawa
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Message 3: Re: 4.666 More fun: inappropriate English

Date: Mon, 6 Sep 1993 12:27:20 -Re: 4.666 More fun: inappropriate English
From: Natalie Maynor <maynorRa.MsState.Edu>
Subject: Re: 4.666 More fun: inappropriate English

There's an especially funny collection of bad translations available
via ftp from as docs/words-l/Funnies/translations.
 --Natalie (
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Message 4: Re: 4.666 More fun: inappropriate English

Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1993 15:46:33 -Re: 4.666 More fun: inappropriate English
From: "Anne M Loring-1" <>
Subject: Re: 4.666 More fun: inappropriate English

One of my favorite eating spots is a down-home, folksy place whose decor
runs to weathered barn board wall finishes, photos of antique farm
equipment and shotgun-brandishing fellows with corncob pipes clenched
between their teeth, rusty hurricane lamps, etc. A sign by the exit
reads: "Ya'll come back" (abbreviating "Ya will come back"?) (No, for
those of you unaccustomed to such folksiness, that's "You all come back!")

I've run across similar usages of apostrophes, placed almost at random
SOMEWHERE within an abbreviated spelling of a phrase or word to indicate
informal or dialect pronunciation. Several variants of "little"
informalized include (no citation quotes used here):
 lil' l'il 'lil' and li'l (which to the prescriptionist within me
seems closest to hitting the mark-- though if apostrophes are supposed to
indicate missing material, there's more missing at the end of the word,
isn't there?)
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Message 5: RE: 4.652 More Fun

Date: Wed, 8 Sep 93 16:26 GMT
Subject: RE: 4.652 More Fun

I have just broken into this inappropriate English discussion, and wonder if
anyone has mentioned my favourite example, which was the pretty high-powered
sports car marketed in the UK by Mitsubishi under the name 'Starion'. I'm
convinced that some Japanese executive must have thought "Ah, Starion - velly
stlong horse - good name." This was confirmed by the Chinese husband of a
freind, who had one, and was convinced that that was what it meant!

And the sign above a car workshop in Bangalore, India, which advertised their
services for "Engines, electrical, bodywork ... and tinkerings". How
wonderful to have tinkerer as one's official job!

Mark Hilton
University of Westminster
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