Lots of email has arrived. Better start getting through it.
First up today, Mark Spahn, Lord Ruler of West Seneca, New York, has been discussing our site with others—as you are surely doing, if you know what is good for you—and had an exchange with a friend about sign language. His acquaintance claimed that the Japanese sign language word for brother is an extended middle finger.
Skeptical, Mark remembered his grade school Japanese in the nick of time:
Oh brother! = まさか！
But wait. There is no word for “brother” in Japanese;
it’s either 兄 (“ani”, older brother) or 弟 (“otouto”, younger brother).
Or does the finger-flip mean 兄弟 (“kyoudai”, brother(s))?
Indeed, ani is an extended middle finger, even with a friendly up-yours gesture at the end.
Otouto is also and extended middle finger that drops like an F-bomb.
One supposes you have truly answered your question about the universality of sign language. Imagine that inevitable Japanese tourist lost in Harlem searching for his brothers.
Interestingly, other languages have separate words for older and younger brothers. More interesting than that is that the Japanese do not produce twin boys, so there is no word for twin brother. Japanese people of course do produce twin girls. Of course, we lie.
Additionally, Mark adds:
You report that sign language is not universal, but is rather closely bound to the spoken language in the same country. So a scurrilous curse in Klingon sign language saying “I shall crush your skull!” might be interpreted by a deaf Vulcan as saying something unrelated, like “You have a phrenologically interesting skull.”
Second, ScottO writes in:
Oh great and dreadful, etc. etc., Czar,
I read your post Signing Your Language Away, and while I learned quite a bit about how other countries had people who pretended not to be able to hear, just as we do here in America, I must admit I share Mark’s (and your) sentiments about people misusing the abbreviations for US time zones.
As an employee of a large organization based on the East Coast, I get emails all the time about events or deadlines in which the author uses the abbreviation “EST”, even though that time zone really exists for only about 4½ months out of the 12 each year now. I am always tempted to write back, after the event or deadline, “I’m sorry I missed it, but I tried to dial in/complete the task/access the site a half-hour before the time you stated, and it was unavailable. After all, 10pm EST is 11pm EDT, or 8pm PDT, and it should have been available at 7:30.”
But since they are stupid enough to use the incorrect abbreviation in the first place, they would have no idea what I was saying, and I would still suffer whatever consequence there was to missing the actual time.
As I was composing this, I realized I had written to you before on this subject. But since you are over 700 years old, perhaps you have forgot that previous missive, and will indulge me this short rant.
Ever your minion,
Scott, with your loyalty, you shall be afforded as much space to rant as possible. You should see some of the email we get that we do not publish. Right, Volgi?
Finally, rounding off emails from people we like, BG writes in:
Look, it’s really pretty simple…
As you noted, when high-tech civilization meets low-tech civilization, low-tech always loses, even when high-tech isn’t deliberately trying to exterminate low-tech.
So when the tentacled aliens arrive in their high-tech spacetime warping vehicles, it’s gonna mean very bad things for us, even if we do have the advantage of opposable thumbs. There’s only one thing that can save us, even if they arrive with the best of intentions: the first one that gets off his/her/its spaceship, before he/she/it can gabble out “znx# pwr#nav snxx ȜʑʥϢ” (“We come in peace! We bring gifts of beads and trinkets!”), we kill him/her/it and eat him/her/it.
When word gets back to the home planet, they’ll decide our crap-covered hornet’s nest of a planet is too disgusting to mess with, when Argelius II is right next door to us (for a galaxy-hopping civilization, anyway) and has a “Gun-Free Zone” sign prominently posted in the front yard to boot.
As precedent, I refer you to the Jivaro Indians of Ecuador and Peru. The Spanish conquistadors utterly destroyed the great civilizations of the Aztecs and the Incas, but the Jivaro are still there today. Why? Because they never tried to make nice with the high-tech civilization; they simply regarded shrunken Spanish heads as delightfully chic accessories for their mud huts. It wasn’t long before everyone needed a couple of shrunken Spanish heads hanging by the front door, and the Spaniards decided to move on to less-hazardous and more-promising enterprises like searching for the Seven Cities of Gold and the Fountain of Youth.
Ah, as we once said to Voltaire, «dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres.» He never stopped repeating that.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.