[conspire] NYLXS Press Release on the OLPC Project

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu May 1 15:02:17 PDT 2008

Quoting Ruben Safir (ruben at mrbrklyn.com):

> Actually, English is a very preciese language compared to most others,
> but this word is especially rift with duality of meaning, as is much
> of the Arabic language.

English?  A (relatively) precise language?  Precise?  My, oh my.  This
would be the English language in which one cannot even speak about "free
software" without confusing people?  _That_ English language?

This would be the English language in which it's impossible to use a
third-person ungendered pronoun without sounding either fussy
("he/she"), illiterate ("they"), clinical ("it") or sexist ("he").

This would be the English language that give rise to jokes about the
rancher trying to deal with his snake infestation by sending an order

   "Dear sir, please send me two mongooses...."  [crosses out]
   "Dear sir, please send me two mongeese...."  [crosses out, frowns]
   "Dear sir, please send me one mongoose.  While you're at it, send me
   another one."

FWIW, I find the French language an order of magnitude more precise.
English can be rendered precise only through extremely concentrated,
bloody-minded effort the likes of which only obssessive-compulsive
Anglo-Saxon culture could possibly devote to a misshapen tongue
resulting from a violent collision between mediaeval French and lowland
German, resulting in a union so unholy it would have been summarily
banned in Alabama if only it hadn't predated that state by about 700

> This words originates in Quaronic text....

No, it clearly didn't.  The redacters of Koranic[1] (and hadith) text
didn't include a footnote that said "Hey, gang!  I know this word is
completely unfamiliar to you, and we're passing it on to you only
because the Messenger of God says the Big Guy wants you to learn it.
So, here's its definition...."  No, very clearly the word made it into
the suras because it was already in the vernacular, not the other way

> Not withstanding the origins of words in religious context, and feudal
> meanings, the word GoodBye is not presently religous.

Well, for you it isn't -- except, now, thanks to me, you'll have a
difficult time _not_ remembering how it decomposes.  ;->  But I think
you'll find upon examination that English vocabulary is riddled with
religious foundational concepts, overtones, and connotations, mostly
taken from various surly forms of Protestantism -- which memetically
attach themselves to your mind and help determine how you conceptualise
the world.

For example, you tend to throw around the word "fundamentalism",
probably not aware of how that term's history in _English_ (and, in
particular, in historical context in the northeast USA starting with 
the intellectual movement originating at the 1883-1897 annual Niagara
Bible Conferences, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary,
involving gatherings of Protestant preachers trying to come to grips
intellectually with the scientific findings of Kelvin, Lister, etc., and
adapt their tenets rather than just hiding from science.  

(Ironically, the term tends lately to be used as a codephrase for
religious know-nothing rejectionist, but its history is that of an
honest intellectual movement to adapt to science by identifying the core 
"fundamental" tenets of the attendees' faith, in contrast to the
naturalistic "liberal" or "modernist" theology coming into vogue, not to
mention spiritualism, materialist socialism, Mormonism, and so on.)

So, in particular, it would be ludicrous to apply that term
("fundamentalist") to a completely different religion where that
whittling down of tenets to match science was never a religious
intellectual movement, and where there is no religious officials
mediating between believers and God.  The term would be incongruous as
applied to, for example, Judaism or Islam.  Judaism doesn't have priests
(any more) and even Reform's lax practice doesn't deny the mitzvot
(though it might weasel on a bunch of them).  Both faiths assume 
strictly personal relationships between members and God; officials are,
at least in concept, respected only for the level of their learning,
eloquence, and attention to duty.

Applying the term "fundamentalist" to either faith incurs some horrific
metaphor shear, in effect.  But a large number of pundits, including
you, are deaf to that incongruity, and unaware of the likelihood that
the inappropriate metaphor's baggage from Protestant context in English 
will distort their thinking about the other faiths.  This is especially
a risk if (1) you're personally ignorant of the faith in question, and
(2) encounter the subject almost entirely within the echo-chamber cum
shouting match that is modern American politics on the Internet.

> The word Jihad is.  So I'm not certain of the point your making here.  

Well, if you re-read and consider what I wrote in the sprit intended,
instead of just trying to argue, you'll probably follow it well enough.
But, again, I am not going to belabour the point.

The point was that words _always_ have huge variation in overtones,
connotations, and metaphorical application in as innumerable contexts as
perverse humans can concoct, some words more than others (on account of
being more protean in application).  You're going far out of your way to
hide from the application of that obvious truth to many words including
"jihad", but the spirit of reason is eventually going to sneak up on you
and clobber you with enlightenment, so I don't have to.  ;->

> The context of Jihad 

You speak as if there were only one.  Go back and re-read, and you will 
see that your core assumption, here, is incorrect.

[1] I make no apologies for anglicising.  And the Illinois city is
pronounced "Kay-row".  Visiting Egyptians who object are free to go to
that place on the Nile that pronounces it funny, instead.

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