Friday, November 29, 2013

Throw Grammar off the Train

I am enjoying a blog called Throw Grammar off the Train, written by a former newspaper subeditor. I recommend it. Here is a piece where he is discussing something he found in the Wall Street Journal. He writes:

Today's WSJ piece on the controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon includes a baffling bit of terminology:
The Yanomamö, like anthropology subjects everywhere, regarded the note-scribbling scholar as a choice target for practical jokes. Only after months of effort did Mr. Chagnon learn that his informants had been deliberately feeding him bogus names. Naturally, he found out in the most humiliating way possible: Telling a group of men something about a headman's wife, he unknowingly referred to her by a capillo-vaginal epithet.
Even if you knew the meaning of capillo- ("hair"), the intended epithet might not be immediately apparent. Luckily Google Books will show you the page with Chagnon's actual words:

My anthropological bubble was burst when I visited a village about 10 hours' walk to the southwest of Bisaasi-teri some five months after I had begun collecting genealogies on the Bisaasi-teri. I was chatting with the local headman of this village and happened to casually drop the name of the wife of the Bisaasi-teri headman. A stunned silence followed, and then a villagewide roar of uncontrollable laughter, choking, gasping and howling followed. It seems the Bisaasi-teri headman was married to a woman named “hairy cunt”. It also seems that the Bisaasi-teri headman was called “long dong” and his brother “eagle shit”. The Bisaasi-teri headman had a son called “asshole” and a daughter called “fart breath”.

Love it!

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