March 9, 2004
Goodness From the World of Linguistics
The old Lingua Franca is dead. Long live the new Lingua Franca. The two have nothing to do with each other, to be sure. The old Lingua Franca was a magazine about academia. The new LF is an Australian radio show about language, and it’s phenomenal. To wit, a defense of the art of euphemism:
As you mature and leave behind childish things, it’s important to learn how not to say what you mean. For a start, saying what you mean presupposes that you actually know what you mean (increasingly unlikely as you grow older, particularly when you reach your ‘golden years’ as we all say). Apart from that, it’s quite simply dangerous. As any ape knows, sending a clear signal about what you mean can get you killed in no time at all. Not having language, apes groom each other instead as a way of saying, ‘I’m on your side, I think you’re wonderful; here, let me just get that tick out of your hair, and you know, if there’s the odd baboon cutlet going around when you’ve finished eating, do toss it my way, if it’s not too much trouble.’ If you’re very, very nice to an alpha male chimpanzee, he might even let you fondle his scrotum.
Not all the episodes have full transcripts or recordings, but many do. Do go and have a look around the site.