Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to explore strange old quotes, to seek out new sayings, and new ways of stating them in a galaxy not so far away. [Listen to our podcast at thequotablespodcast.libsyn.com ]

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ed-ymology: The Origin

In this week's mini episode [listen now] we introduce one of our most fun segments, "Ed-ymology." In this segment, I (the one with a socially unacceptably large vocabulary and an atypical interest in word origins) choose a word and Ed offers his own self-generated insights on the possible original meaning of the word. Since he hasn't read a dictionary like I have--what can I say, it was a lonely childhood--his take offers quite a lot of amusement, whereas mine would be quite boring (if you don't believe me, just keep reading). And, the selected word gives us a new perspective on related quotations that we can explore.

An Assassin at work.
The topic this time is "assassin," which everyone understands is someone who kills a politically prominent person. It originates from a European/Christian mispronunciation of the name of a Middle Eastern/Muslim sect that was active during the Middle Ages, when Christian Crusaders were actively battling to gain control of the lands that both religions hold sacred. For me, then, the word is fascinating because it is an example of how language can be used for propaganda purposes. To call someone "assassin" in Europe had far greater ramifications early on because it would have alluded that you were truly an "enemy" or perhaps even a "heathen."

This politicization of an ethnic group's identity as a derogatory term reminds me of another commonly used word: "barbarian," which means savage or uncivilized. The term was coined by the Ancient "civilized" Greeks who were constantly beset by allegedly less sophisticated peoples. The Greeks would ridicule some of these neighbors by making fun of the way their languages sounded, "bar bar bar," in the same way a racially insensitive person today might say, "ching ching chong," to simulate a Chinese language.

Of course, the most offensive of these types of words today is so heinous most people will only refer to it as "the n-word," which is derived from the French word "negre" and Spanish word "negro," both of which simply mean "black." And although you'll find very few people with skin that is actually black in color, (for that matter, I would say that I am much closer to pink than white, but I digress), Europeans used this term generally to refer to people from Sub-Saharan African as well as other places where skin tones were darker than their own. Once the transatlantic slave trade was started, the reference became increasingly derogatory, and by the mid-20th century, when racial intolerance was no longer the accepted norm, most people of African descent protested against its use. Even the use of the words "negro" and "black" are offensive to some, but these terms are still considered to be much milder than the infamous "n" word.

Barack Obama and his mother.
In the United States, this has left us referring to people with African ancestry as "African American." But, even this more accurate description is less than satisfactory for some. After all, due to centuries of race mixing, a large number of U.S.-born individuals with African ancestry also have European, Asian, or Native American ancestry. President Obama, Tiger Woods and Halle Berry are just a few examples. They could just as easily check "white/caucasian" on their census forms, which is why an increasing number of those kinds of forms now include "mixed race" as an option. The other issue with using "African American" is that people who immigrate to the United States from other countries don't consider that term to refer to them. For them, "African American" is more an ethnic subset of the larger racial group.

(And that, my friends, is why Ed is in charge of entertaining you and I am in charge of boring you...)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Who are The Quotables?

In today's meme-driven world of social media within a universe of the 24-hour news cycle, absolutely anyone can become "Quotable" with  the click of a return key. We seek out and share quotes because they are funny, insightful, outrageous, moving, or wise. Whether drawn from the "wisdom" of the centuries or the most recent TV program, quotes have a way of taking on a life of their own. Some are created on purpose by speech writers, dramatists, orators or ad copy writers while others are spontaneous creations of a moment that find life in their repetition. 

We use quotations to be inspired, to be entertained and to be educated. We quote directly, paraphrase and misquote. Quotations are so important to us that Facebook even asks you to include your favorite quote among your profile characteristics along with your contact info, your schools and your relationship status.

In this new blog and podcast, we'll explore the full range of Quotables and offer our own inspiring, entertaining education. And so, to paraphrase The Bard,

"So long as folks can speak, or tweeps can tweet,
So long live quotes, and this gives life to The Quotables."

Podcast episodes are released at 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Tuesdays. Look for the first episode on 10/30/12 at bit.ly/tqhomepage on Liberated Syndicate.