18 September, 2013

Words, racism, trivia, and a difficult choice

There was an interesting discussion on my Facebook page the other day when I posted this:
Here's another US word I've never heard before:
1. a fall on the buttocks, often regarded as comical or humiliating.
2. a humiliating blunder or defeat.
Turns out it isn't an American word after all. Some Americans had heard of it, others not. Some British had heard of it too! I shouldn't have been surprised when I accidentally came across the word (or a form of it) again today in this post.

Then there are other unusual words I've come across recently. Do you know these (all from From Billabong to London, by Mary Grant Bruce, 1915)?


This last term used to be a neutral term for black people in South Africa, but is now a racial slur. Indeed this chapter has been a challenge for me to read to the boys. The attitudes of these Australians to encountering black South Africans in Durban has been shocking. I guess it is true to the times, but still. I've had trouble reading without editing and editorialising. But the truth is that we really shouldn't avoid this kind of literature. It should be read and explained. If I try to bury my head and my kids' heads in the sand about racism in literature, I'm not helping us learn and grow.

Disclaimer: this is a random photo
of a runner, not our son. I don't post
photos of our children on this blog.
I was very surprised to find that my 14 y.o. knew what an assegais was (a special type of African weapon). He also knew something of the historical context of it, including the warrior-leader called Chaka who is also mentioned in the book.

This kid of mine is a trivia king! He's had a decision to make in the last week. It looks like he might make the CAJ cross country team that's going to an invitation meet in Guam next month, but it clashes with the high school Brain Bowl competition here in Tokyo (see an explanation of what that is here). Which to chose? For most people that would be a no-brainer, but for our sporty, yet smart son it wasn't that simple!

His cross country coach was mildly amused at the dilemma. Oh, did I mention that his Brain Bowl coach is David? So David had to decide too: whether to give permission for this expensive sporting excursion that would take away one of his pretty reasonable Brain Bowl competitors. Ah, the fun! No chance of our son becoming a stereotypical jock.

Ah, but I must get back to my wordy job. More editing and writing. That's what's on my agenda this afternoon.


Ken Rolph said...

I am surprised that you think of pratfall as particularly American English. Prat is from the 1500s in English and I suspect a pratfall comes out of the tradition of pantomime and low comedy.

Wendy said...

Ken, that's what the Macquarie says it is: US English. I've also only seen it used by Americans (though many don't know it at all, it seems).