Category: Language


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At An Art Opening

The art world loves jargon, and the more art buzz words you can cram in, the more impressed people will be. The next time you meet a work of art that has you stumped, and you’re being pressed for a response, just play with the following:

Quote some Latin! Who says dead languages aren’t useful? When confronted, try sprinkling a bit of the old language into your response, like: “What you say is all very well, but always remember that ars longa, vita brevis” (“Art is long-lasting but life is short”). Another good one is ars est celare artem (“the purpose of art is to conceal art’s artfulness”). And if all else fails, say, “de gustibus non est diputandum” (“there’s no accounting for taste”).

Use entropy! Entropy is a scientific term that’s been hijacked by the art world. And while it means that the amount of disorder in the universe is bound to increase (this is the second law of thermodynamics: heat is disordered energy), it’s pretty useful at openings. If the thing you’re looking at appears to be irredeemably chaotic and incomprehensible, try saying, “The artist appears to be a supreme master of entropy.” You will sound deeply knowledgeable while seeming to praise the work (when, in fact, you’re cleverly condemning it!).

Isn’t it ironic? Simply claim that “Fundamentally, this work is an extremely skillful use of irony.” By definition, irony means to convey a meaning by expressing the opposite. If you have no idea what the artist is trying to say and suspect that the artist doesn’t have an idea either, this is a crafty way of implying that you’re penetrated to the heart of the work’s nonexistent meaning. If you’re asked what or where the irony is, look inscrutable, nod wisely, and walk away.

The final nod: If you find a work of art meaningless or someone’s point of view incomprehensible, unacceptable, or futile, you can always shake your head and declare the whole issue to be “problematic.” Just whatever you do, don’t admit defeat or tell the truth.

On Rational Expectations

Mentioning “rational expectations” is an excellent way to demonstrate that you have some familiarity with economic theory. The idea of rational expectations, put forward by some economists, is that people are pretty smart when it comes to predicting economic phenomena (such as inflation or stock prices or their own incomes). That doesn’t mean the predictions will be accurate, but it means they won’t be off target in any regular or predictable way.

If your conversation partner asks, “So what?” point out that the rational-expectations theory sets limits on what government is able to do. For instance, in a recession, the government might cut taxes to get people to spend more. But if taxpayers have rational expectations, they’ll realize the tax cut is temporary, and they’ll keep their spending low in anticipation of the budget deficits and higher taxes coming next year.

At this point your conversation partner may express skepticism, questioning whether people in a shopping mall are really performing complex calculations about government policy. Don’t worry, we’ve got an effective counter! Just note that some economists share these doubts, and then mention the alternative view of adaptive expectations, which says people form expectations based on the past. So, if inflation was high last year, shoppers will expect it to he high next year, even if the Fed is now gung-ho about stopping inflation.

Nanotechnology’s Gonna Change Everything!

It’s confirmed – nanotechnology is one of the hottest buzzwords since . . . well, the buzzword buzzword. And the good part is that faking your way through a discussion of it is easy once you understand only a few things. First off, nanotechnology implies building things with atoms and molecules. The scale is obviously very, very small, a nanometer being a billionth of a meter. By comparison, a human hair is about 50,000 nanometers wide. But what exactly is the payoff? If you’re arguing for the technology, just keep these things in mind: by applying it to medicine, nanomachines will actually be able to enter the body to destroy viruses, remove arterial plaque, and excise cancer cells. Even more amazingly, nanomachines will have the ability to build other nanomachines in a completely pollution-free production process, and the potential for these tiny machines is enormous. Of course, if you’re lobbying against the technology, the potential for over-replication is a real threat. So, if you want to kill the conversation ASAP, just bring up the Terminator scenario: nanotech weapons have the potential to self-replicate as targeting killing machines to kill any sort of host system available (from computers to crops to livestock to humans). It should help you switch topics quickly.

The Armchair Geographer As World Traveler

There are few better ways to fake you way through cocktail party conversation than by learning geography. As people talk about their vacations to distant and exciting places, simply ask a few informed questions – and drop a few obscure place names – and they will tend to assume that you have been there yourself. If you really want to impress, you might focus on amusing place-names, especially if the conversation is focused on the British Isles. “When you visited Ireland,” one might venture, “did you climb Macgillicuddy’s Reeks or fish in the river Suck? It is especially noted for its pike, you know.” “The Isle of Man is no doubt delightful, but the Calf of Man is really quite special.” “My favorite Scottish islands are the threesome of Rhum, Eigg, and Muck, right off the Sound of Sleat.” Or one an also compare Scotland’s various firths, the best-named undoubtedly being the Firth of Fourth. My own personal choice however, has got to be the northernmost point of the Outer Hebrides: The Butt of Lewis.

About Performance Art

If you really want to impress when talking about performance art, you’ve just got to remember that the entire genre is built on the idea that there are a variety of realities and views in society. So, essentially, any argument you make with conviction should pass. However, should you need a little reassurance, you might want to keep these important ideas in your back pocket. First off, you should think about the degree of minimalism and pluralism exhibited in the work, fancy words for whether the content is simple of complex. You should also identify the taboo that’s being exposed, and focus on the provocative details of the performance. Combining these clues with your own response and emotional opinion should help you make a seemingly profound statement (thankyouverymuch!) about the piece. In fact, just crib the following mad-lib to help you in sticky situations: I felt the piece truly deconstructed the process of (some societal problem), challenged the accepted value of (some concept taken for granted), and related brilliantly to (insert political, artistic, or social issues here).

With Correct Pronunciation!

If you fumble with a philosopher’s name, nothing you say afterward will sound credible. So, learn to pronounce these names correctly, then start worrying about their ideas.

  • (George) Berkeley is properly pronounced like Charles Barkley (bark-lee). This name is commonly mispronounced “burk-lee,” like Berkeley, California, which ironically, is named after George Berkeley.
  • (Friedrich) Nietzsche is commonly mispronounced as _nee-chee.” The correct pronunciation is “nee-ch-ya” and rhymes with “pleased to meetchya.”
  • Lao-tzu (born ca. 604 BCE) is spelled several different ways in English transliteration from the Chinese. But no matter how you spell it, the proper way to pronounce it is “lau” (sounds like “ouch”)- “dshu.” The stress goes on the first syllable.
  • (Charles Sanders) Peirce (1839-1914) is commonly mispronounced as “peer-s.” The correct pronunciation is “purse,” which is somewhat funny because Peirce rarely had a penny in his purse. Oddly, Peirce took his middle name, Sanders, as an anglicized form of Santiago, or “St. James, in honor of a fellow pragmatist, William James (1842-1910), who helped him out financially.
  • (Ludwig) Wittgentstein (1889-1951) is a name that demands authentic German pronunciation, and there are plenty of ways to slaughter it. Here’s one that embodies all of them, “wit-jen-steen.” The correct pronunciation is “vit” (rhymes with bit)-”ghen” (rhuymes with ken)-”shtine.” the first name is pronounced “lude-vig.” If you think it’s hard to pronounce his name, try reading his Tractatus.

With A Star Trek Fan!

Say a Trekker (the polite term) approaches you with amorous intentions: “You’re the most beautiful carbon-based life-form in the Alpha Quadrant. Would you care to join me for a Romulun ale? May I store your number in my tricorder?” Here’s a quick primer for your convenience. If you’re in a pinch, though, you can always say your Prime Directive prevents you from dating dweebs.

  • Aliens, Not-So-Friendly – the Borg, Jem’Hadar, Cardassians, Klingons (sometimes), Q Continuum: In the original series, the warlike Klingons were the bad guys. But sometimes between then and The Next Generation, an uneasy truce came into effect. One of them, Worf, even joined the crew of the Enterprise. The Ferengi (big-eared merchant aliens that bear a strange resemblance to NBA star Reggie Miller) were too comical to be the new bad guys. Enter the ultimate menace, the robotic Borg, stalking the galaxy in giant cubes assimilating entire planets into their Collective: “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” The super-hottie on Star Trek: Voyager? That’s ex-Borg babe Seven-of-Nine.
  • Kirk and Picard: The two big-name captains of the starship Enterprise. James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner) commanded Enterprise NCC-1701 in the original series and the first seven films. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) commanded several Enterprises in the Next Generation and later films.
  • “Live long and prosper”: A Vulcan blessing/salute, accompanied by a hand sign: fingers spread in a V formation, thumb out, both ad-libbed by Leonard Nimoy. He derived it from a common blessing from rabbis to their congregation. The gesture symbolizes the letter shin, the first letter of the word Shadai, a secret Hebrew name for God.
  • Prime Directive: The guiding principle of all Starfleet interactions with alien species. The main clause: “No Starfleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture.”
  • Stardate: The way of marking time that replaced AD as the standard. There’s complicated method for determining stardate (SD), but here’s a good one to know: SD 40759.5 = October 4, 2363 = commissioning date of the starship Enterprise.
  • Starfleet: The military arm of the United Federation of Planets, an alliance including Earth and over 150 other planets.
  • Tachyon pulse: An emission of a special kind of energy that seems to solve all kinds of problems, from temporal anomalies to subspace rifts. If that doesn’t work, usually an inverse tachyon pulse does the trick. It is a common dues ex machine solution in the Trek series.
  • Warp speed: As Mach 1 is the speed of sound, Warp 1 is the speed of light.
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With Art-Official Flavoring!

  • Aesthete: [ES-theet] n Someone who claims to be particularly sensitive to beauty and who thinks as a result that he or she is superior to others (for example, Oscar Wilde).
  • Venissage: [ver-nih-SAZ] n French word for “varnishing,” aka the day before an exhibition opened, when artists added the finishing touches to their work already hanging on the wall. Nowadays it’s simply the chic word for a private viewing.

Fresh Out of The Coven

  • belladonna: [bel-uh-DON-uh] n Derived from the Italian for “beautiful woman,” belladonna was a favorite among witches, the forerunners of our modern chemists and physicians. In their attempts to make various poisons and potions, they discovered the physiological properties of many plants and herbs. An extract placed in the eye dilates the pupil and supposedly increases sex appeal. Similar compounds are used today by ophthalmologists when they examine the eyes. When belladonna is rubbed on the skin, its active ingredient, atropine, is absorbed and can give rise to hallucinations. That’s why belladonna was incorporated into “witches’ ointment,” which was applied to the skin during coven meetings. Knowing that, it isn’t hard to believe that witches really did fly (at least in chemical fashion).

With Just A Pinch Of Technology

  • ambimousterous [AM-bee-MOUS-ter-ihs]; adj Proficient using a mouse with both the left and right hand.
  • Aunt Tillie [ANT TIL-lee]: n The quintessential naïve user that must be taken into account when designing software. To pass the Aunt Tillie test means the software is idiotproof.
  • Batman factor [BAT-man FAK-tur]: n A measure of electronic geekness that looks at the size and number of items attached to one’s belt. For instance, having a Palm Pilot, a cell phone, and a walkie-talkie would grant you a very high Batman factor.
  • Bogosity [bo-GOS-ih-tee]: n The degree to which something is bogus.
  • Chickenboner [CHIK-en BO-nur]: n A spammer generally thought to be a redneck in a darkened trailer with a litter of KFC chicken bones surrounding the workstation.
  • Dancing frog [DAN-sing FROG]: n A computer bug that will not manifest itself when someone else is watching over your shoulder. (Remember the Warner Brothers frog that sang and danced for only one person?)
  • geekasm [GEE-KAS-em]: n Best understood by reading this quote by MIT professor Alex Slocum: “When they build a machine, if they do the calculations right, the machine works and you get this intense . . . uhh . . . just like a geekasm, from knowing that what you created in your mind and on the computer is actually doing what you told it to do.”
  • kilogoogle [KIH-lo-GOO-gui]: n Unit of measurement to indicate the number of hits made on a term by a Google search.
  • Teledildonics [TEL-uh-dil-DON-iks]: n Virtual Reality Sex.
  • Zipperhead [ZIP-ur-HED]: n Someone with a closed mind.

With Multisyllable Words

Literary studies have some of the most jawbreaking technical language you can find. What’s funny is how these hard words (anacephalaeosis) sometimes have simple meanings (“recap”).

  • Hendiadys: [hen-DIE-uh-diss] n You know how you say good and mad when you mean very mad, or nice and soft when you mean, er, nicely soft? You’ve expressed an idea in two words connected by and when you could’ve used just two words (a word and its modifier) to do it. So, what’s a really crazed Greek word we could use for that? Oh, we know: hendiadys.
  • Homoioteleuton: [ho-mee-oh-te-LOOT-on] n Again, a big, hard word for a pretty simple thing. This refers to the trick of using several adjacent words with the same ending: “He sneezed mightily, showered cheerfully, ate hungrily, dressed carelessly, and drove crazily.”
  • Now for the one that everyone learns, the word that makes you know you’ve really learned something about literature.
  • Onomatopoeia: [oh-no-mah-to-po-EE-ah] n The naming of something by imitating a sound associated with that thing, such as when we write hiss when we want to name a, er, a hiss. Or a sonic boom. People get apoplectic over another use, which many swear isn’t really onomatopoeia, but who cares? That’s the use of words that sound like the thing they stand for, such as moan, dribble, bounce, and so forth.

Four Singer Types From The World of Opera

  • castrato [kuh-STRAH-toe]: n A male singer, castrated in the early years of his life, in order to prevent his oice from changing. In centuries past a castrato’s voice was prized for its combination of male strength and female beauty. The most famous castrato of all time was Farinelli, who became extremely rich off his rare talent.
  • Heldentenor [HEL-den-teh-NOR]: n The tenor (high-voiced male singer) in a dramatic opera who has a huge voice – big enough to trumpet over a large orchestra, knocking the audience back into their seats. A heldentenor (literally, “heroic tenor”) can be found most often in operas by Wagner.
  • Mezzo [MET-soh] soprano: n Literally, “half soprano.” This is a woman whose voice – and pay – is significantly lower than a (high-voiced) soprano’s.
  • Prima donna [PREE-muh DON-na]: n A soprano, literally the “first lady.” This is the woman who plays the heroine in an opera. Throughout history, this first lady has often been demanding to the point of ridiculousness. As a result, the expression “prima donna” if often used to refer to people who think the world revolves around them. Also known as “diva” (literally, “goddess”).

Physics Lingo That Went Mainstream

  • Critical mass [KRIT-ih-kul MASS]: n In a nuclear bomb or in a nuclear reactor, the critical mass is the minimum amount of material needed to make the bomb blow up or the reactor created significant energy.
  • Quantum leap [KWO-tem LEEP]: n Changes in an atom cannot take place continuously, but only through jumps. In popular use, the quantum leap now refers to a jump, a big change in concept (or ability). There is an irony in this use. In physics, the quantum leap is the minimum possible change.
  • Resonate with [REZ-uh-nayt WITH]: v When your vibes match those of someone else. If a musical note has the same frequency as a tuning fork, then hitting one will make the other vibrate.
  • Be on the same wavelength [SAIM WAIV-lenth]: v A version of “resonate with.” Tune your radio to the right wavelength (or right frequency) and you’ll receive everything that is broadcast.
  • Free fall [FREE FAHL]: n Not always an uncontrolled plummet to death.. A high diver jumping off a board is in free fall. So is an astronaut orbiting the earth. That’s why they feel no gravity.

Some Lingo From The Back Lot

  • Abby singer [AB-ee SIN-gur]: n The second-to-last shot of a day of filming. The real Abby Singer, a production manager for numerous films and TV series, often called out, “Only one more shot,” signaling to cast and crew that the workday was almost over. But the director frequently trumped him, asking for more takes or another shot. The Abby Singer is followed by . . .
  • Martini [mar-TEE-nee]: n The very last shot of the day is called the martini because, the director hopes, the only shot left is a nice Bombay Sapphire.
  • Alan Smithee [AL-in SMIH-thee]: n A pseudonym used when a director wants nothing to do with the finished film, having lost creative control due to extensive reediting, studio meddling, or other interference. Directors can appeal to the Directors Guild of America (DGA, their union) to have their name taken off the film. If the appeal is successful, the name is replaced with Alan Smithee, the only pseudonym the DGA allows for directors, although writers, producers, and even actors have used it. John Frankenheimer, Dennis Hopper, Sam Raimi, and many others have all chosen to “Smithee” their films. So get up and leave the theater if the opening credits say “An Alan Smithee Film.”
  • MOS [EM OH ES]: adj Describes a scene shot without live sound, such as panoramic landscapes or the like. Hollywood legend links the origin of MOS to Austrian actor and director Erich Von Stroheim, whose accent turned “without sound” into “mit-out sound.”