Tag Archives: cranky

The politics of pronunciation

Debate trivialities:  some people were concerned that Obama pronouncing the name of the second-biggest nuclear power on the subcontinent as “Pah-ki-stahn,” rather than “Pack-i-stan,” sent the wrong message.  Apparently this issue is not a new one for the President.

My first reaction is to say “Why not pronounce it Pah-ki-stahn if that’s how the Pah-ki-stanis pronounce it?”  And in some sense the world is moving in that direction.  It used to be customary to say “Eye-rack” and “Eye-ran” — my sense is that standard newcaster usage has shifted from Eye-rainians to Ee-rahnians.  (What does Romney say?  What do self-consciously Middle-American politicians say?)

But it’s clear that no pure principle of that kind is in effect.  We would roll our eyes at a politician who called Israel “Yisroel” or Germany “Deutschland.”

Those pronunciations don’t match the English spelling, though.  So maybe the principle is “Among those pronunciations which are licensed by the written name of the place in English, use the one that best approximates the name of the place as natives would say it.”  But on this account, Israel would come out something like “Ees-rah-el”, whereas in real life there’s a staunch bipartisan consensus around the utterly un-Hebrew “Izz-ree-yul.”  And any candidate who followed this theory and said “Frahnce” would be wiped off the electoral map.

Is the politically savvy protocol simply “pronounce things the way Americans are used to pronouncing them?”  But that doesn’t explain the shift on Iran and Iraq.  And it doesn’t explain why certain sensitive types bristle at hearing “Pah-ki-stahn” but would give a pass to “Chee-lay.”  And surely not even the crankiest political uptightniks still insist on saying “Peking” just to get up the nose of the ChiComs.

Stop the presses:  a quick Google for “Peking site:nationalreview.com” reveals that there are, indeed, cranky political uptightniks who say “Peking” just to get up the nose of the ChiComs.  I should have known.

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I am cranky about people who are cranky about the tenure system

Via Deane Yang’s Facebook feed, this New York Times round table on the question of tenure, featuring weigh-ins from faculty members in education, English, religion, education again, and economics.  Notice anything missing?  Like, say, science, engineering, law, and medicine?  I said this before but I’m cranky about this piece so I’ll say it again.  The reason we need tenure in these fields is not because we’re worried about getting fired for teaching an anti-establishment line on epsilons and deltas.*  It’s because universities have to compete with private employers for scientists, mathematicians, engineers, lawyers and doctors.  Mark Taylor writes:

If you were the C.E.O. of a company and the board of directors said: “We want this to be the best company of its kind in the world. Hire the best people you can find and pay them whatever is required.” Would you offer anybody a contract with these terms: lifetime employment, no possibility of dismissal, regardless of performance? If you did, your company would fail and you would be looking for a new job. Why should academia be any different from every other profession?

Maybe because academia pays a lot less than many other professions?  Does Taylor have any suggestions as to what alternative benefit we should offer candidates in order to make an academic job worth their while?  Does he really think that, absent tenure, our board of trustees would tell our chancellor, “Hire the best people you can find and pay them whatever is required?”

Right now, tenure is what universities have instead of money.  I don’t see a lot of money coming our way soon.  So I think we’d better hold on to tenure.

* Although this actually happened to Cauchy!

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Harvard beats Yale 29-29, both beat Princeton

I’m sorry to say that I only made it to one movie at the Wisconsin Film Festival this year.  But I picked a good one.  I went to see Kevin Rafferty’s Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, a documentary about the most thrilling Harvard-Yale game ever played between two of the best teams Harvard and Yale ever fielded, just because I sincerely like Ivy League football.  But in fact it’s an authentically good documentary whether or not you care about Harvard or college football — though it might be hard going if e.g. you don’t know what “pass interference” means.

I won’t say too much, to avoid spoiling it.  But it’s particularly remarkable how Rafferty manages to develop Yale defenseman Mike Bouscaren, over about five minutes of total screen time, from a comic caricature to a sincerely terrifying villain (drawing hisses and gasps from the packed house) to a thoughtful and even remorseful ex-combatant.  There’s a good interview with Rafferty at the New York Times college sports blog.

In less inspiring Ivy news, Princeton’s admission rate bumped up a half a percentage point and disgruntled seniors went nuts on the Princetonian comment page, decrying the current administration and everything associated with it.  One of the enjoyable things about teaching at Princeton was getting the Princeton Alumni Weekly — that’s right, their alumni magazine is a weekly! — and reading the three pages of cranky letters from alumni with something on their chest about how they do things nowadays. The Princetonian comments are a great opportunity to hear from the cranky alumni of tomorrow.

At the moment, the CAoT are upset about “grade deflation” and the “war on Fun.”  Both got started while I was teaching at Princeton.  The former policy was aimed at the fact that grades in science and engineering classes were about a half-point lower, on average, than those in humanities; so that students who were planning grade-sensitive careers in law or medicine had a weird incentive not to major in science.  The “war on Fun,” refers, I think, to the establishment and promotion of a four-year residential college as an alternative to the eating clubs — and more generally a sense that the administration is hostile to the clubs.  When I was teaching at Princeton, about a quarter of the students weren’t in clubs, and life seemed to be sort of logistically annoying for them.  It’s hard for me to get my head around the idea that club members object to a nice cafeteria for the students who didn’t bicker in.

Oh, and I think “the war on Fun” also includes some kind of rule about registering dorm parties in advance with your RA.  Harvard introduced this policy when I was an undergraduate, and people grumbled about it then, too.  And you know what?  People still had parties.  Message to all undergraduates everywhere — your university is not conspiring to keep you from drinking beer in groups. I promise!

Anyway, the comment thread got linked from lots of places and so there’s some question how many of the posts are from authentic Princeton undergrads.  This, for instance, can’t be real — can it?

I am a triple legacy and I feel I have a more outstanding right to be here than a lot of the so-called Academic 1’s. Princeton used to stand for something, not just be a humorless grade factory. What’s next, bed checks? The Street is a shadow of what it was in my parents’ day and the current workload is just ridiculous.

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