Monthly Archives: April 2007

Very poor choice of words

April 23, 2007

I read in the Sydney Morning Herald today something that made me stop and read it again. The Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, was talking about the Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd. He was berating Rudd’s supposed stand-off with Union leaders about new industrial relations policies.

Joe Hockey

According to the Herald, “Mr Hockey dismissed the the so-called friction between Mr Rudd and the unions as a B-grade movie designed to make Mr Rudd look tough.”

Kevin Rudd

However, Joe Hockey’s next quote had me wondering just what it was that Kevin Rudd and the unions were really up to:

“They get the union bosses to stick their heads up and Kevin Rudd on steroids comes in and whacks them off.”

He does what?

And you think they wax lyrical these days?

April 22, 2007

Some of the worst word abuse comes from the mouths of salesmen, particularly car salesmen and real estate agents. They like to twist your perception, selling something bad as if it’s great. “Renovator’s delight!” obviously means “run down pile of crap”, for example.

Well, back in the old days they took even more liberties. They didn’t try to re-word things to hide the bad, they simply advertised things with gay abandon regarding the truth. My wife, as an artist, has a number of books on art, art history and so on. We recently came across this classic in a book called Art and Suburbia by Chris McAuliffe (Craftsman House, 1996):

This is a poster ad from the 1880’s advertising land allotments for sale in Victoria. The sales talk in this particular ad is priceless. It starts off reasonably enough, referring to the area as THE LAND OF PROMISE. They’re talking it up, but that’s ok. Then we get to the subtitles just under the artist’s impression of said “land of promise”:

A Paradise in Miniature, verily, verily!

How miniature? And two verily’s? Very impressive indeed. Then:

Eden Resuscitated!

Right, getting a bit outrageous now. And I wasn’t aware that the fabled garden of Eden had been pronounced dead. I thought it was just lost. Then they start to get a bit elitist:

A Home for the Chosen People

Those chosen to get there first with their ten pound deposit, I presume. But maybe not. Look closely at the bottom right of the picture and the little inset there. Here, I’ll isolate it for you:

It’s two of the three wise men, considering land ownership in West Brunswick!

Now the real estate agents are on a roll and they let fly with the hyperbole:

The most perfect Sites of Rural Beauty to be found in Great Australia. Aesthetic Nature’s Celestial rendezvous. The Fairy Land of “Marvellous Melbourne.”

Nature’s celestial what now? And notice how they put quotes around “Marvellous Melbourne” but not around The Fairy Land. Then they get really carried away and start to make it sound almost so incredible that you wouldn’t want to live there:

140 feet above sea level, and commanding Views of City, Sea, and Mountain almost oppressive in the bewildering beauty of their magnificence.

I say, steady on there, old chap. You’re starting to scare me now. But it’s all ok in the end, because part of the land has been reserved for a train line:

Yep. Right through the middle of the estate. And as the second line in the picture above states:

102 Trains daily, on the two lines, running every fifteen minutes. Trams and Omnibuses incessantly.

Incessantly? Phew, thank goodness for that.

It’s my birthday but you get the present

April 18, 2007

So yesterday was my birthday, but enough about that. It also marked the release of the first new J R R Tolkien book since the posthumous release of The Silmarillion in 1977. It’s not really a new book by J R R Tolkien, but was editted together by his son, Christopher, using extensive notes left behind when J R R died in 1971. The book was started in 1918 and revised numerous times, but never finished.

Front cover of the new book

The book is called The Children of Hurin, realsed by Harper Collins in the UK and Houghton Mifflin in the US. The cover art, internal drawings and colour plates were supplied by Alan Lee, who illustrated The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings and won an oscar for art direction in Peter Jackson’s recent movies.

The book is credited as being written by J R R Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien. A cynic might wonder why this book wasn’t forthcoming some years ago, seeing as Christopher claims to have had the material for 30 years. It might be suggested by those less charitable than others that the book was knocked together in the last few years after the phenomenal success of Peter Jackson’s movies. The subsequent legions of new Tolkien fans would pretty much ensure that this book would be a publishing success story of epic proportions. Today, the day after its release, the book stands at #2 on We’ll have to wait and see just how good a book it is. Let me know if you get around to reading it. I’ll try to get around to it sometime soon.

Interestingly, on the subject of publishing phenomenons, the #1 book at Amazon today is the new Harry Potter book and that’s not even released until July 21st. Weird.

This one doesn’t really count

April 16, 2007


Printing up your own sign and putting it up on the wall of your church doesn’t really count, I’m afraid.

Scrotum defended

April 16, 2007

In a quick update to the previous post here on The Word about the use of the word scrotum in a children’s book, I have to share the words of the author herself. In an article she wrote in the LA Times in response to the whole ridiculous controversy, Susan Patron eloquently and plainly states a powerful case. In particular, this paragraph stood out to me:

Of course, adults are right to fear a word in a book, although not, as in this instance, because it names a body part. They are right in the implied assumption that books have enormous power and influence. Children who read widely understand more about the world; they have a foundation for making better decisions. They think, and because of that, they may even challenge their parents’ beliefs. For some, a scary idea, but isn’t a thinking child preferable to one who accepts the world at face value and has no aim to change it for the better?

I have a new hero. Read the entire article here.

Scrotum, a word too far for kids?

April 11, 2007

Susan Patron was on a roll. An author and librarian, she wrote a book for nine to twelve year olds called The Higher Power Of Lucky. It got a decent print run of 10,000 copies to start off with. Then it won the Newbury Medal, considered to be the most prestigious literary award for Children’s Literature in the US. Another 100,000 copies were quickly printed and rushed out.

The Higher Power Of Lucky

Then all hell broke loose. Why? Because she had the outrageous gall to use a real word. The word in question is scrotum. By anyone’s standards that’s a good word. It’s got substance to it. Patron describes it beautifully in the book:

“Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”

The word appears on the first page, but the book is about Lucky preparing herself to be a grown-up, Ms. Patron said. Learning about language and body parts is very important to her. She overhears the word through a hole in the wall when another character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog on the scrotum. (Man, that’s bad luck for the dog!)

Susan Patron. She writes words like scrotum!

Naturally, people have thrown a fit about the book and it has already been banned from school libraries in some states in the South, the West and the Northeast. Librarians in other schools have suggested that they may well follow suit. It’s been a hot topic among librarians online since the book was initially shipped. Am I the only one that gets some perverse pleasure out of imagining evangelical librarians in a state of frothing horror, running around in circles screaming, “Scrotum! No!”? Then again, I’m sure that’s not exactly what they’re doing. They’re probably not actually frothing yet.

People are concerned about the vocabulary lessons that would result from reading this book to kids. Why?

“Sir, what’s a scrotum?”

“It’s a part of the body that only male people and male animals have. After class, go to the library and have a look in the dictionary for it.”

There. The kid got an answer to be going on with and a lesson in using a dictionary. If the kid actually has the wherewithal to go and look in a dictionary, then they’re probably not the sort of kid that would be scarred for life by knowing what a scrotum was. They would actually be a more rounded and educated individual.

These are the same knee-jerk, conservative librarians that tried to get Harry Potter books banned because they claimed that those books promoted witchcraft and Satanism. Even though there’s nothing illegal or wrong with the Wiccan religion and Satanism is not even hinted at in the books (and so what if it was?) Of course, to someone blinded by dogmatic Christianity and on a Crusade, that’s not the point and they’ll fight to force their views on everyone. Sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox now. For a little while.

You know the thing that sticks with me the most about this whole debacle? Talking about the book and the word scrotum, Patron says she took the idea from a true incident involving a friend’s dog. That poor dog!

Still, Patron must be loving all this free publicity.

The word is disco

April 4, 2007

This is completely unrelated to anything The Word is actually about, but what the hell. I saw this driving along today and thought it was probably the coolest thing I had seen in a long time. So, I thought I’d share it with you all.

When you see something like this you just know there’s an interesting story to go along with it.

The most memorable spoken words

April 4, 2007

Here in Australia, the national broadcaster conducted a poll to determine the all time most memorable speeches. ABC Radio National received 5,000 responses to its call for the public to name speeches that they considered to be unforgettable.

Dr Jane Connors, ABC Radio National Manager, said, ‘We are delighted by the enthusiastic and thoughtful response and the lively discussion this survey has inspired.’ So what came in at number one? Dr Martin Luther King’s I have a dream… took that honour. The full top twenty are:

1. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. I have a dream, 28 August 1963, Washington DC.

2. Jesus. Sermon on the Mount. c27.

3. Paul Keating. The Redfern Address, 10 December 1992, Redfern Park.

4. Winston Churchill. We Shall Fight on the Beaches, 4 June 1940, House of Commons.

5. Abraham Lincoln. Gettysburg Address, 19 November 1863.

6. John F. Kennedy. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Inaugural speech 20 January 1961, Washington DC.

7. Earl Spencer. Funeral Oration for Diana Princess of Wales, 6 September 1997, Westminster Abbey.

8. Henry V Act IV Scene III. Author William Shakespeare c 1599. St Crispin’s Day speech made before the Battle of Agincourt (which occurred on 25 October 1415).

9. Gough Whitlam. The Dismissal, 11 November 1975, Parliament House steps.

10. Queen Elizabeth I. I have the heart and stomach of a king, 9 August 1588. (Address to the troops at Tilbury as the Spanish Armada approached Britain.)

11. Nelson Mandela. An Ideal for Which I am Prepared to Die. Statement at trial, 20 April 1964, Johannesburg.

12. Mahatma Gandhi. Non-violence is the first article of my faith, 23 March 1922, Ahmadabad.

13. Socrates. Statement at trial condemning him to death, 399BC, Athens.

14. Robert Kennedy. Address to National Union of South African Students, 7 June 1966, Cape Town University.

15. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. We Now Demand Our Right To Vote, Keynote Address to Women’s Rights Convention, 19 July 1848 New York.

16. William Wilberforce. Abolition of Slavery, 12 May 1789, House of Commons.

17. Alfred Deakin. These are the times that try men’s souls, 15 March 1898, Bendigo.

18. Pericles. Funeral Oration for the fallen of the Peloponnesian War, 431 BC.

19. Mark Antony. Friends, Romans, Countrymen Lend Me Your Ears, Julius Caesar Act III Scene II. Author William Shakespeare c1599.

20. Ben Chifley. The Light on the Hill, 12 June 1949, ALP Conference.

Given that it was an Australian poll and conducted by Radio National (with a fairly narrow demographic by global standards), the list is interesting. There’s a nice mix of political and social speeches and a good spread across history, from Socrates, through the fictionalisation of speeches by Shakespeare to modern politics.

Do a web search and have a read of some of the speeches listed.

To Luntz, the art of bending truth with words

April 3, 2007

Have you ever wondered just how much word choice can affect perception? Obviously, the greatest writers are the ones that can say exactly what they mean with perfect clarity. Check out the quote from Mark Twain at the top of my sidebar on the right – he says it better than I can, naturally.

The other side of that talent is the ability to say exactly what you want people to hear without any clarity at all. This is the usual skill of the most successful politicians, religious leaders and salesmen.

That being the case, their King, Master of the Bullshit Spin, would have to be Frank Luntz. Luntz is a forty five year old American “celebrity pollster”. He has spent fifteen years advising a number of governments and other luminaries on the best way to get what they want by saying the right thing.

Frank Luntz – if he was plural, it would be rhyming slang

For example, it was Luntz that suggested that oil drilling should be referred to as “exploring for energy”. More of his spins include the ever more common phrase “climate change” in reference to global warming. After all, global warming sounds altogether too catastrophic. Naturally, there’s a reason for that; it is bloody catastrophic. But change the phrasing to “climate change” and it almost sounds positive. Luntz considers it less “hysterical”. If wordsmithery is the Jedi skill of writers and orators, Frank Luntz is the Overlord of the Dark Side. A WordSith.

Luntz has advised US and British Governments, both incumbent and opposition. He published a book about his craft called Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear. He has no shame at all. The phrase “Luntz-speak” has become a synonym for lying in US government circles.

Completely incidental and irrelevant, Luntz’s father, Lester L Luntz (The Alliterative Man) was a pioneer in the discipline of forensic dentistry. The father used his powers for good, it would seem.

Comparisons have been made to George Orwell’s Newspeak from the apocalyptic novel 1984. Luntz even put a good spin on that. He suggested that to be considered Orwellian “is to speak with absolute clarity, to be succinct, to explain what the event is, to talk about what triggers something happening… and to do so without any pejorative whatsoever.” Samantha Bee on The Daily Show had it right when she said that Luntz had made a career out of “spraying perfume on dog turds”.

Samantha Bee – no Luntz-speak required

Sometimes, Luntz will simply tell the complete opposite of the truth and claim it to be clearer. For example, Luntz is credited with coining the term “Healthy Forests Initiative” for policies by the Bush administration that favour expanded logging activities.

Asked if he accepts any responsibility for the outcomes of his suggestions, Luntz-speak provides the answer. “A pollster doesn’t enact public policy. A pollster impacts public communication. I make language recommendations.” He even has the gall to say, “Even the best language will not effectively sell a bad policy.” I can’t help wondering how he sleeps at night, trying to convince himself that these words are true. Then again, perhaps he doesn’t sleep at night. Perhaps he hangs from the rafters, drinking the blood of unbaptised babies.

You can learn more at Wikipedia and


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Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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