Tag Archives: English Language

UGLY AMERICAN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You AreCustoms of the World

Written by: The Great Courses

Narration by:  Professor David Livermore

DAVID LIVERMORE (PROFESSOR, AUTHOR, Ph.D IN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION FROM MICHIGAN STATE)
DAVID LIVERMORE (PROFESSOR, AUTHOR, Ph.D IN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION FROM MICHIGAN STATE)

As an American traveling to other countries, there is a nervousness about being classified as an “ugly American”.  Buying and listening to the Great Course’s lectures titled “Customs of the World” is a reflection of that nervousness.

Americans are generally ignorant of other cultures; partly because of a failure to learn much about American history.  Add ignorance of world geography and other languages to American education and the “ugly…” appellation bares truth.    This lecture series only scratches the surface of most American traveler’s cultural ignorance.  Worse, it fails to make listeners any less nervous about being bad representatives of America.

American cultural ignorance begins in kindergarten and is reinforced by an education system that ignores foreign languages until it is too late for young brains to proficiently adapt to more than one language. Nearly all post-industrial nations require a passable understanding of English before graduating from high school, but not America.  To make foreign cultural ignorance even worse, America’s understanding of other national cultures is filtered by English-only’ bias.

Livermore begins his lectures with a statement that “…culture matters…”.  He regales American listeners with platitudes about cultural intelligence.  He begins by presuming most Americans are ignorant of other citizen’s cultures which is probably true.  But, Livermore suggests that ignorance can largely be overcome by listening and not proactively engaging conversation with non-Americans.  How is that unique?  That suggestion is as true for an American meeting any stranger; regardless of their culture.

Next, Livermore suggests the importance of understanding the predominate religion of other nations.  Certainly that is relevant but it is equally relevant in one’s approach to some Americans in our own country.  Finally, there is Livermore’s caution of stereotyping people based on what is said to be common in particular cultures.  Again, that is a fault that exists in America among people in our own culture; e.g. black American’s perceptions of white American’s, American Latinos perceptions of black or white Americans, and vice versa.

Livermore proceeds by offering stereotypical characteristics of other countries’ citizens with examples of Nordic, Germanic, Eastern European, Latin European, Latin American, Confucian Asian, South Asian, Sub-Saharan African, and Arab cultures.  Livermore compounds one’s fear of being classified as an “ugly American” with platitudes like “People from many cultures are uncomfortable talking about themselves with a stranger…”  How is that a revelation?  The same discomfort exists in most cultures.

Livermore’s admonition to research other countries histories is important when traveling.  Having some understanding of a country’s history helps one communicate with citizens of a different country.  Research tempers one’s conversation and decreases the possibility of embarrassing oneself or the person being asked questions.  Livermore notes some fundamental differences between cultures like that which is collectivist (socialist or communist), another that is individualistic (democratic or egalitarian), or one that is totalitarian.  Livermore is quite correct in suggesting cultures are different and can lead to gross misunderstandings but common sense is as likely to ameliorate an “ugly American” persona as these audio book’ lectures.

Livermore’s suggestion that Americans need to raise their cultural IQ-s is certainly relevant but his lectures fail to go beyond common sense platitudes.  American cultural IQ-s will remain low as long as research commitments and language arts are relegated to high school and college classes.  At best, Livermore raises the issue of American cultural ignorance.  He does little to reduce it.  The potential for being an “ugly American” is extant both inside and outside the United States.

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A WRY STORY

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English LanguageThe Etymologicon

Written by: Mark Forsyth

Narration by:  Don Hagen

MARK FORSYTH (ENGLISH AUTHOR, BLOGGER OF THE INKY FOOL)
MARK FORSYTH (ENGLISH AUTHOR, BLOGGER OF THE INKY FOOL)

This is a wry story about the origin of English words.  Though the title word of the book is rarely heard, it has been defined since the 17th century as a treatise on the derivation of words.

The ironic and amusing voice of Don Hagen magnifies the crisp and clever writing of its author, Mark Forsyth.  After a first listen, one is tempted to listen again.  The happenstance of word origins is sometimes funny, bizarre, and often serendipitous.  

SAMUEL JOHNSON (1709-1784, ENGLISH WRITER, NOTED FOR CREATING THE FIRST COMPREHENSIVE ENGLISH DICTIONARY)
SAMUEL JOHNSON (1709-1784, ENGLISH WRITER, NOTED FOR CREATING THE FIRST COMPREHENSIVE ENGLISH DICTIONARY)

Forsyth reminds one of reports about Samuel Johnson (principal author of “A Dictionary of the English Language published in 1755).  Both Forsyth and Johnson have an uncommon interest in word origins and show a sense of humor when talking about their interest.

Forsyth begins his book comically.  He notes how carried away he becomes when asked about the origin of a word.  Forsyth writes of a casual question asked by a random acquaintance about the origin of a word.  The questioner loses interest in a stream-of-consciousness derivation of words offered.  Finally, the random acquaintance asks Forsyth to stop talking.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616, POET,PLAYWRIGHT, AND ACTOR)
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616, POET,PLAYWRIGHT, AND ACTOR)

From Shakespeare’s “…hoisted by a petard” to the origin of a flush toilet, Forsyth entertains his audience.  Who knew that Shakespeare’s petard is associated with a silent fart?  If the true meaning of small explosion does not raise one from a chair, the smell will.

ALEXANDER CUMMING (1731-1814, SCOTTISH MATHEMATICIAN AND WATCHMAKER THAT INVENTED THE FIRST FLUSHING TOILET)
ALEXANDER CUMMING (1731-1814, SCOTTISH MATHEMATICIAN AND WATCHMAKER THAT INVENTED THE FIRST FLUSHING TOILET)
THOMAS CRAPPER (1836-1910, ENGLISH INDUSTRIALIST, & PLUMBER)
THOMAS CRAPPER (1836-1910, ENGLISH INDUSTRIALIST, & PLUMBER)

Who knew that a flushing toilet is an invention of Alexander Cumming in 1775; not to become famous until Thomas Crapper starts mass producing toilets in the 19th century?  However, Crapper has nothing to do with the origin of the word crap.

JOHN MILTON (1608-1674, ENGLISH WRITER OF THE EPIC POEM PARADISE LOST)
JOHN MILTON (1608-1674, ENGLISH WRITER OF THE EPIC POEM PARADISE LOST)

Another enlightening vignette is the number of words originated by John Milton.  Some say Milton creates more new words than William Shakespeare.  Forsyth notes words like pandemonium, lovelorn, unoriginal, enjoyable, sensuous, terrific, etc.–all come from Milton’s writings.  Forsyth chooses pandemonium; follows it to its origin, and smoothly transitions to the origin of the words pan and then pants.  One never knows exactly where they are going as  Forsyth sifts through his Etymologicon.

This is a short story and a fascinating journey through the centuries. Meanings of words change through the course and tenor of times.  Forsyth shows how words change with turns in history and quirks of nature; i.e. words, like quisling from Nazi sympathizer, Vidkun Quisling, or butterflies from the color of their poop.

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