Antisophie’s Words: using ‘man’ as a prefix, -porn as an adjective

As part of an ongoing series I have been thinking about words that I hear in everyday speech and writing, and I think about how they have a specific location in our contemporary context, both in terms of being located in the English langauge, and being as signifiers of things in our time and that I hope one day will look like a bit of a commentary of our society (and its decline). I’ve talked about unnecessary words in the past, so….

Using ‘man’ as a prefix (or, the man-portmanteau)

(advisory: mention of eating disorders)

For some reason I found the show Will and Grace on tv the other day. I remember thinking how edgy it used to be with all the gay culture allusions and how edgy it was with all the double-entendres. But then I realised when I watched it I was an impressionable teenaged girl and many things seemed edgy when they actually weren’t. I remember recently watching this particular episode where the character Jack appeared to be sad about a relationship breakup, and said something to the effect that he was a manorexic. I then felt very icky about how I used to like the show and how deeply troubling it was to make a gag like that.

I often hear uses of the word -man used in a portmanteau fashion. A portmanteau is is a combination of words that don’t conventionally go together. Usually this is as a way of trying to show some significance of the newness of a combination, or it may be affectionate, or it is an ad-hoc way of trying to explicate what one means. Some portmanteaus however have gained common currency and are recognised beyond an ad hoc usage, like ‘chillax’.

The man-portmanteau (see what I did there?) is often used as a diminutive variation of an already existent word, or something that triest to make a phenomenon more masculine. ‘Manorexic’ is sometimes used in a demeaning way to look at anorexia, sometimes it is used in a non-serious way and in a growing usage acknowledging male eating disorders, it is sometimes used in a serious way. Other examples of using a man-prefix/man-portmanteau include:

  • Man cave
  • Man flu
  • Mancession
  • Man bag
  • Mankini
  • Manscaping
  • Man-child

The use of these prefixes seem to communicate quite different things. Something like man-scaping, mankini or man- bag tries to communicate something that is by the distinction of having association with maleness, unusual. Other terms like man cave and mancession have very specific meanings. Man cave is usually associated with a cultural symbol of a boorish anti-domestic type or indulgent. Mancession refers to the way that economic conditions have influenced male dating behaviour and its effect on women looking for men. Much of these prefixed terms seem to communicate different aspects of masculinity: vain, boorish, immature or lackadaisical. I am ambivalent however as to whether these ascriptions are wholly negative.

Porn as an adjective

I’m trying to think a little bit systematically. I’ve heard the term ‘porn’ used as a descriptor and it makes me reflect one what pornography signifies if it is to be linked in a suffix way to other words. Examples of what I mean are:

  • Property porn – the phenomena of admiring property ownership and the upward mobility associated with it
  • Inspirational porn – A term used by Ouch Podcast presenter Liz Carr to describe the Paralympics and its irrelevance to the lives of many disabled people in the UK
  • Food porn – the subject of many tumblrs, Pinterest boards and television shows valorising glamorous food

Michael once made the point that a Kantian perspective would deny that gastronomy could be a thing of art, because we eat it. In doing so we have an interested perspective about its consumption. It is relevant to our appetitive interests to crave foods, even the unhealthy kinds. However the idea of food porn seems apt to me, because it is (fitting to the analogy of pornography) skirting between the respectability of being artistic in some ways, to just appealing to our craving of it. The aspiration of food is also a distinctly class-based issue and one of the modern signifiers of class, cultural capital and what Veblen would call a pecuniary interest. The use of porn to describe food seems very apt to me.

Thinking about property porn and inspirational porn. I think there is something deeply political about making them analogous to pornography. Pornography generally portrays a world that doesn’t really exist, but represents fantasies that most people can’t have access to. In a world where wages don’t get to make ends meet and a gamut of other forms of economic instability, the presence of programmes valorising home ownership and a ‘quality of life’ in living in an x bedroom house with water features and close to the city reflects lots of deeply held and I think covertly socially stratified based attitudes. With ‘inspirational porn’ to describe the paralympics, I think the point was to point out how elite athletes who happen to be disabled is a bit of an irrelevance to the reality of many disabled people, who are living in increasingly intolerable conditions with the introduction of things like the PIP its exceptionally stringent conditions. We see the ugly side of aspiration: we must aspire but we cannot have. We are told what we ought to have and how we ought to behave, but with little possibility of fulfilling it. That is a sick society and reminds me of how Marx described religion: as a spiritual gin. Of course, spiritual gin is a bit of an obscure reference, where one syllable will do: porn.



Antisophie’s Words: ‘Black American’ vs. ‘African-American’ as descriptors

Advisory: This post contains racialised terminology in context of an historical period of distinct racial prejudice.

As someone who reads a bit of pre-20thC literature, terms to refer to ethnic and cultural groupings (I refuse to use the term ‘racial’) that I’ve encountered have been antiquated and quaint at best, or horridly antagonistic, demeaning and outright wrong in others. When Immanuel Kant describes an anecdote denoting the lack of reliability for an African slave on the sole basis of the colour of his skin, or when Kant goes into a ‘hierarchy’ of the races which sounds like a Borat skit, except without any of the parody that the latter represented.

One of Michael’s favourite composers is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Michael also is a fan of Ragtime (and does not half remind us of this fact whenever he’s near a piano). Coleridge-Taylor, is described by contemporaries, and even in some of the manuscript copies that Michael owns, as a ‘Negroe’ (sic), or the African Mahler (or black Mahler). These terms, I take to be neutral at best, to describe a man that is by his peers considered a composer of merit. These terms do make us feel uncomfortable because it reflects the historical prejudice of many blacks in Europe and the Americas in the post-slavery generations, which in many ways continues today. I consider it preferable to call Coleridge-Taylor the black Mahler rather than the African Mahler, for, while it is the case that the composer’s father originated from Sierra Leone, his cultural origin is more British than anything. Although my conception of Britishness surely differs from the late 19thC. Likening his composition to Mahler is a very favourable comparison.

When it comes to the United States, the emerging styles coming from the post-slavery black culture became a source of caricature and distinctly racialised and racist connotations. One of the very popular song forms of the time was the ‘Coon Song’ genre. The genre is argued to contribute to sterotypes of blacks in the United States that continue to this day. Just look at a Ray-William Johnson video where he makes a joke about watermelon consumption, or most hack stand-up comedians who rely such tropes.

It’s one thing to say ‘oh look how quaint and eccentric it is to use those words in the 19thC’ where a certain kind of historical context did not provide a vocabulary that was fully independent from discrimination or caricature. In recent parlance I’ve been reminded of this issue, through a slightly different trajectory. In the news of Obama’s second electoral victory, many UK commentators refer to ‘Black Americans’ as opposed to the US preferred terminology of ‘African-American’. This then made me think of the construction of these terms.

In terms of UK commentators and outsiders to the USA, the description of ‘Black Americans’ refers to an ethnic category which has social implications, in the same way that say, Black British would in the UK. In official census categorisation, Black British has further subcategories such as Afro-Caribbean etc. As far as I understand, the notion of the African American has a cultural baggage to it that tends to obfusicate in some ways buy clarify in others. The African American is a cultural category, that has a distinct history and cultural identity. In this way it can also be a political grouping because of the historical circumstances that affected such a group. In another way the African American seems to me unclear: what about first generation migrants as opposed to those Americans who have traceable links to the 19th and 18th Centuries? What about non-black Africans who are also American? By some definitions for instance, I have an African cultural heritage, but I’m uncomfortable with being grouped with the ‘African Asians’ of the 1960s and 1970s. What about Caribbean Americans who happen to be black?

I appreciate that black as an identity is a very complicated diaspora of cultural and ethnic boundaries, in many cases it refers to different degrees of skin colour that we putatively refer to as ‘black’. Sometimes I wonder whether UK commentators are not so attentive to the cultural history of the category of ‘African American’ favouring a more anodyne description, sure there’s an history to it that we don’t appreciate as outsiders to the country, but I favour the anodyne term because of its lack of inaccuracy and its robustness to capture more in a grouping than a more generic term.


Antisophie’s words: tic-words and ending a sentence with ‘so…’

Since we at the blog have a ‘Reading’ theme series of posts about the overly lofty kinds of books that we read together at the Noumenal Realm. I thought that I would make more light hearted observations of the world around me by having trying to make my own series of posts, namely about words that I hear repeatedly in public, in private conversations or in the media. I’ll call these Antisophie’s ‘Words’, plus I’ve done something like this already throughout the years.

Tic-words, or filler words

I was practicing the clarinet with Destre a while back and I was tuning my Bb Clarinet. It had been a long time since I’ve picked up a clarinet and I was not confident about playing after so long. I thought that the instrument was in tune and so I said to Destre ‘It’s sort of an A [as in concert A]’, to which he replied angrily: ‘It’s not ‘sort-of’ an A’, it IS an A!’. With that comment it tied with a conversation that we had previously about the ways in which people use filler words or what I might like to call tic-words to fill gaps in otherwise empty or underconfident self expression.

I’m sure you’ve all heard it all before, unless you are buried under Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, this form of speech is so prevalent that I am guilty of it. Destre is not guilty of it and never stops reminding me so. It’s the thing that people do when they say ‘sort of’ all the time, or ‘like’, or ending a sentence with ‘really’.

In these contexts, the words don’t mean anything. That is why I find these expressions so problematic. In the 20thC it was said that the use of the word ‘so’ as a synonym for ‘very’ was an indicator of decline in the English Language. An example of this is when Joey Tribbiani in the sitcom Friends said to Chandler Bing: ‘you are so wearing that bracelet’, after giving the latter an unwelcome gift. The meaning of ‘so’ functions as an emphasis or term of distinction. There is nothing distinct however about the candidates of filler words.

The problem I find about these filler words is mainly that its infectious. So (sic) much so that I  end up mirroring the vocal tics of people after a while. I have heard Guardian Journalists in podcasts endlessly using these filler words and it makes them look like amateurs. It also has the contrary effect of making them appear sufficiently young enough to be relevant to their audience (I read a bit of music and fashion journalism).

I might sound like a stick in the mud, and the litmus test for this would be if expressions like ‘sort of’, ‘like’, or ‘really’ appropriate a meaning. The term ‘really’ might have a new appropriated meaning that is legitimate. It is often said after something in a matter of fact way as if to communicate sincerity or factual honesty. For example:

    “I think the Brogues would be much more apt for a date, really”

My concern with these terms, as Michael hints on in this article about the word ‘trolling’ is that it can be used to appropriate something largely different to its canonical meaning, and insofar as it does the meaning of the term changes, but if a term is used ubiquitously in too wide a context, that adds nothing to the meaning of a statement, then it is filler, and unhelpful English.

Postscript: so…

One other thing I absolutely hate is when people use the suffix ‘so’ at sentences to communicate some kind of enthymeme which is usually loaded in the sentence, but not inherent within it. Also as I see it as a tic-like behaviour but not exactly so, I am infuriated by the prevalence of it. The thought of it is particularly arrogant in that it claims to be an assertion yet what the conclusion of what is said through ‘so…’ is not explicited in words, it makes neither a completed thought nor a a completed sentence.I think a visual example of this would be apt, so…