Category Archives: Language

Powerful Weapons

Words are powerful weapons.

One of the most powerful words in the world right now is ‘terrorism’, and we need to stop giving it so much power. Terrorism is the act of inciting the sentiment of terror within a person, or a group of people. That happened yesterday, sadly, in the city of Manchester, and it was perpetuated against a group of innocent bystanders. It was perpetuated against children.

Today, the media stormed in with questions about a ‘terrorist attack’ or an ‘act of terrorism’. But that’s not what it is. It’s a crime, committed by one or more violent criminals. And those criminals are getting what they want the second we call it terrorism. Because when you give it a name, you give it power and agency, and you allow the world to believe that the effect of the attack is that it terrifies you.

We are not terrified. Appalled, yes. Distraught, yes. But not terrified.

This is something which the western media has been perpetuating for years now, and it’s a mirage. It’s a narrative which continues to exist in order to protect the people who are spending money waging the “war on terror” as if war against a sentiment is a meaningful act. It’s a war we’ve already lost, every time we allow acts of barbaric violence to be termed “terror attacks”.

Don’t become part of the narrative. Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into the rhetoric of “extremists” (because many people are extreme, but they don’t always kill others), or “religious motivation” (because many people are religious, and see above). Don’t be fed a lie of the stereotypical terrorist, because that person doesn’t exist. Terrorists do not exist. Dangerous, damaged, often exploited people with an agenda to attempt to incite the feeling of terror do. Let them terrify you and they have achieved their aim.

And as an addendum, don’t let acts like this cloud your mind on national and international policy. The media are a tool of the powerful, and the powerful want to continue subsidising their empty war. Don’t be forced into the belief that the “war on terror” is necessary, or effective. There are many great threats in the world. The word ‘terror’ is not one of them.

This word is a powerful weapon. Do not be threatened by it.


The internet defines definition as:

but that probably doesn’t really cover it.

Definition is complicated, because it’s quite subjective, for something purported to be ‘exact’. My definition of something might be completely different to someone else’s, and it’s easy to trip up when you begin trying to apply your definitions to the wider world. You learn quickly that if your definition clashes with someone else’s, you’re probably in for a rocky ride.

This train of thought stems from a comic by a lovely artist called Ruby, which I saw last week. The comic is about a person being instantly pigeonholed by the person they are talking to, and the message is about not defining people by a single trait. It’s a message I totally agree with, but wow, did it generate some discussion.

In particular, one commentator stated that you are defined by your actions – so if you paint, you’re a painter, and if you’ve got soul then you’re a soldier, etc. Which is definitely one way to develop a definition, but as was pointed out in response, might mean you define someone by their least favoured action or trait.

The thing is, some people get angry about this. They see it as presumptive. But we need definitions  to make sense of the world, and until you are told that your definition of a person is subjectively wrong, you will naturally ascribe them the definition which best suits them according to your understanding.

I’ve moved around a lot in my life, particularly through my childhood, and I am bad at answering the question ‘where are you from?’ because I haven’t properly decided my own answer. Or it varies with context. So I don’t mind that some people see me as Northern and some as Southern. But I do mind when people use their definition of me to assume something about me. Like, that I’m Southern so I don’t like mushy peas. Or I’m Northern so I never feel the cold.

These are obviously small examples, but this applies on a massive scale. We now live in an age where people are encouraged to self-define, but by doing so they often end up in someone else’s definition by mistake. You said you were this, so you must be XYZ. And if you’re not, you can’t be in the gang.

What’s your point, Sally? I hear you ask. Glad you asked, world.

My point is, don’t impose your definitions on other people, and don’t be offended if they have a different definition from you. If it’s you they are defining, correct them. Explain your side as far as possible. Recognise that they may have existed until this point never meeting anyone like you because there is no-one else like you. We need definition in life, to understand the world around us, and our place in it. If someone has misunderstood you, help them understand. If you’ve misunderstood someone else, don’t let their self-definition force you to try and find a box to put them in. They might not fit there. That’s fine.

Can’t get no (decent) sleep

I know I’m blogging a lot recently, but don’t worry, soon I’ll find something else to amuse myself. It never lasts.

I’ve decided to define myself as a missomniac. I’m not an insomniac because that would mean that I have trouble sleeping, which I don’t. I’m great at sleeping. I sleep for hours. But then calling myself a somniac wouldn’t feel quite right either, because that’s just the logical opposite of insomniac, and so it doesn’t quite describe me. I’m a missomniac because I get plenty of really rubbish sleep. I am bad at sleep.

The internet (where the facts live, as we know) suggests that if you have a balanced sleep pattern then you go through 4-5 cycles of sleep a night, each of about 90 minutes. You begin in light sleep, then move to deep, then to REM. REM is the good bit, where the dreams happen,  and deep is the bit where you catalogue memories and generally recharge.

Deep and REM should be about 20% each of your night, and then light should be the other 60%. It depends on your age and various other things of course, but given I’m not an elderly lady or an infant, that should be about right.

So when I tell you that I get around 5 – 10% deep sleep per night, you can understand why I call myself bad at sleep.

Of course, I’m fairly used to sleeping “badly” at this point, but it’s still disappointing to wake up late on a weekend and feel no more refreshed than I do waking up early for work. Or worse, having days like today where I only really sleep just as I’m meant to be getting up, and then proceed to battle my own hair all the way to work because I had to rush and didn’t have time to dry it. It’s a drama.

Aside from the above, if you google my blog then it even knows that I have something dodgy and probably sleep-related going on.

Oh spirit! Sod off and let me sleep.

Brave New World

(Two asides to begin with – If you haven’t read the book ‘Brave New World’ I really recommend it. Also this is my 497th post, and since I’ll totally miss whenever I hit 500 I’m celebrating now. Look at me and all my fancy internet writing)

Anyone who read my last post, or who knows me, or really has interacted with me in the vaguest way, knows I am a nerd through and through. So it is of no surprise that I’m very excited about Leeds Digital Festival. Aside from anything, I know it is happening, which is often a challenge for me – I hear about all the most exciting theatre shows as they close, or academic talks just the final ticket sells. I’m generally bad at “keeping up”.

Other reasons for my excitement about the Digital Festival revolve around the thrilling world of data protection law, and data in general. Not to mention WordPress, cybersecurity, and people doing cool things with code. I’m a big fan all round to be honest.

My previous job was heavily involved in digital, from web content and plugins through to data processing and SEO. I fell into it (as one does), and for me it’s been down the rabbit-hole of digital ever since. It’s a brand new language to explore, not just in terms of actual coding languages (which are a mystery to me, just like most other languages, see the origins of this blog for context) but in terms of the entire world of digital culture. Timeframes are different, the landscape is new, and the risks and rewards are somewhat crazy, but diverse and exciting.

I’m lucky, because I’ve managed to take a passing interest in digital and turn it into something that impacts my whole life, from this blog (which needs a new theme, I know, I know) through to embedding data analysis into my job (where it probably never belonged, but hey ho). And so the idea of getting together with the other digital nerds who like pretty graphs and confusing algorithms and the whole of our brave new world of digital, is slightly my idea of heaven.

Only friendly nerd comments welcome today, please and thankyou.


Boyfriend and I had a discussion about this the other day, essentially along the following lines. What is the difference between a geek and a nerd, and are we one or the other or both?

The answer is, I’m definitely both, and he’s probably only a geek. This is using my personal definition, and also the definition provided by the internet which states;

There is a difference between geeks and nerds.

Nerds are smart, people who lack much of a social life. They often have very few friends. Nerds don’t talk much, and don’t expect others to talk much to them. They are usually nice people, but don’t have the social skills to go out and meet new friends.

Geeks are different from nerds in the fact that they have social lives. However, these social lives are often spent pursuing some passion that the geek is obsessed with (i.e. Yu-Gi-Oh!). They spend all their time thinking about their one obsession, and play it in all of their free time. Geeks are usually only friends with other geeks, and attempts to converse with geeks is futile, unless, of course, you want to talk about Star Trek or whatever the certain geek is obsessed with.*

My definition is more that nerds are analogue, and geeks are digital. But I’ll take both.

Today, I met up with a friend from many many years ago (pre-blog era, so I mean, AGES AGO) and decided that I am well and truly both a geek and a nerd.

Evidence for this. My friend is internet famous and I think that’s really cool. Apparently, I’m the only person who has said this to him, though I’m presuming he means in real life and out-loud (because the whole point of being internet famous is really not to be real life).

I think it’s cool, because I’m a geek, by my own definition. I love digital, and people who digital well, and understand technology and make it do cool things. The furthest I might go is a blog, but guys, at least that’s something. I also like games, which seems to lead to automatic geek status (unless those games are football games, which don’t count).

Boyfriend is a geek because this is our crossover. We play games together, and watch videos of people playing games, and he tells me about coding and I’m genuinely interested. He’s also a geek by the internet definition, because he has friends who are also interested in games, as well as friends who are interested in Astrophysics (his other geek subject of choice)

Here’s where my nerd thing comes in. My interests are very diverse, and I can practically see Boyfriend’s brain switching off once the topic moves away from geekery and into nerdery. And because I’m a bit of a nerd, I don’t talk to as many people because of my lacking social skills (see internet definition above).

I’m nerdy about all kinds of things. I’m a language nerd, a governance nerd, a theatre nerd, a fantasy nerd. In terms of fulfilling the stereotype, I’m there, with bells on. I’m also initially shy on any of those topics, until it becomes clear that I should share absolutely everything I know about Celtic mythology, or whatever the topic is. Once that happens, I imagine I light up like some kind of insane ball of energy, and unleash fact after fact until someone calms me down or I tire myself out. Being a nerd is a definite lifestyle choice.

All of my conversations with my friend today were geeky or nerdy, and it was pretty wonderful to remember there are people out there who are as far down those roads (maybe) as I am. We ended the day sitting in a park, and it was really as if the 9 years since we last really saw each other just hadn’t happened. Here’s to more geekery and nerdery and friends.

*Side note: When did Urban Dictionary stop being full of offensive definitions of my name and become all about actually useful definitions? I don’t like this new modern world.

**Second side note, not referenced at all in the text above (I’m bad at this). I’ve spent all day with this in my head, which I think was popular when me and my friend were friends previously (shut up, I know what I’m saying).

You’re welcome.

A Further Treatise on Words ‘n Stuff

So a couple of weeks ago I wrote about linguistics and politics and how people are really bad at them right now.

Turns out it’s happening again. Or this was always happening. I’m inclined towards the latter, but anyway.

Today I’d like to have a rant about the principle arbitrators of sins against the English language, that vast community of people who insist on using it incorrectly day after day, the Americans. And let’s start by clarifying that though I am grouping the subject of my rant under the banner of “Americans” I do not mean all Americans, nor do I mean this is only an issue of Americans. It’s just that guys, right now, you’re kinda the worst.

At this point let me also acknowledge that this is absolute armchair activism. But then I know there’s nothing I can do about the situation in the States anyway, because despite their perpetual need to stick their nose into the affairs of others, the American public in general is absolutely not responsive to any commentary made by a non-American. Unless they are funny. Or Nigel Farage. Go figure.

The misuse of words which I take issue with today are some of the best-known words from the “Star-Spangled Banner”, possibly my least favourite national anthem ever. The words I take issue with are

“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”

I think the reasons why I take issue with these words are immediately apparent. It’s two words in particular. I’ll take them one by one.

We all know that the American populace are some of the least free people in the world, so lets just set that to one side for now.

One of the oft-cited rights of all American citizens is freedom of speech. It is what gives Donald Trump the right to spew his relentless idiocy across as many channels as he can pay for, and it’s what gives insane gun lobbyists the right to be heard.

But Colin Kaepernick, he can’t even make his point through silence without an immediate backlash.

In case you’re not up to date, Kaepernick is the Quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, and he has been all over the news lately for choosing to sit through the national anthem before his football games. He is doing so to protest the oppression of black people in the US.

And he’s free to do so, right? That’s a thing he’s allowed to do, because he’s a US citizen, so he can say and do what he likes so long as it’s not causing direct harm to others. I’m pretty sure those are the rules.

So looking at the above, you’d maybe say, “dunno what your problem is, there’s a brave American making use of his freedom. Just because he’s doing so by explicitly choosing to not sing those actual words doesn’t mean he isn’t free and brave”

And you, friend, would be right. Except that no-one seems to think he’s being brave. They just think he’s offending all of the brave souls that have gone out and died in the name of US freedom and bravery (and I have some views on the armed forces but we’ll get to that another time).

Some of the brave souls who have taken it upon themselves to serve the American people in maintaining their freedom (ostensibly) are the police force. Kaepernick’s protest is directed quite squarely at them, and so naturally they aren’t dead happy, but of course they are brave Americans and they recognise that the views of a single person shown through silent protest aren’t a threat, they are just airing their freedom.

Ah no. Wrong again. Because earlier today the good folks of the Santa Clara police stated that they will not send around 70 officers to work at 49ers games, because Kaepernick wore some socks with pigs in police hats, and now their pride is really bruised.


I’m sure it’s evident from my tone at this point that I take a very dim view of the reaction by the police force. It’s not exclusively because of their almost wilful ignorance of the true meanings of the words free and brave. I have issues aplenty to be frank. But for now, lets focus on the following ideas;

– A brave individual speaks out against an institution he believes is oppressive
– He is free to do so
– The institution in question are mandated to uphold freedom and safety of citizens
– They have chosen to do so, and are paid to do so
– Members of this institution choose to threaten the safety of the citizens, in order to protect their own pride
– The citizens choose to believe it is the brave, free individual who is threatening their safety

What are his threatening actions? Choosing not to sing the words “free” and “brave”.


Oh, and wearing a pair of socks.
If you need to attack someone for wearing a pair of socks, it really suggests you’ve got issues.

Politics, Linguistics, and the Logical Fallacy

Isn’t it interesting how prevalent it has become to read a word or phrase which has the connotation of “all”, and instead misinterpret it as meaning “only”?

On an almost daily basis now, there is a story popping up in the news which features people doing this, which aside from anything makes you question the global education system (which is another rant for another time). The two most common occurrences are the following;-

Black Lives Matter (which apparently reads only black lives matter)

Feminism (which apparently reads only women deserve fair treatment)

It’s easy to say that this is symptomatic of the commentators. If you’re a white cis male then you’re obviously going to feel threatened by statements which aren’t inclusive of you. In a world of refusal to recognise privilege, all claims referring to a specific group will be immediately thrown out as ‘not truly inclusive’. But it’s not only those who don’t conform to the noted criteria who are getting in on the act.

There are a new wave of women who refuse to associate themselves with the word feminist, or feminism, because they feel that it doesn’t represent their values. In turn, they are berated by women who do see themselves as feminists, for not recognising the struggle of women through history or for not recognising the struggle of women today in different circumstances than those of the privileged (blog-writing) west.

It’s no wonder really that there are a third group of women, and non-gender conforming individuals, and men, looking on in horror at the whole mess. I can state unequivocally that from my position here in group 3, I’m struggling to know how to identify. Yes, I want equality between genders. Yes, I feel that historically women have lacked rights which men have been privy to. But that also doesn’t mean that I’m only fighting for that equality for women, and the word feminist is incredibly toxic, in a linguistic sense, because it evokes that.

There’s a similar issue with black lives matter. This time typed without capitals, because to begin with, it’s key to distinguish between the activist organisation, who do engage in activities which many don’t condone, and the plain English phrase.

Firstly, the phrase, and it’s constant rebuttal that “all lives matter”. Well yes, and who said they didn’t? You’re reading it wrong, and inserting an “only” on the front where it doesn’t exist or belong. The internet has plenty of great cartoons explaining the difference between “only black lives matter” and “black lives matter as well” so I won’t labour the point here.

Secondly, it’s all too common that people read “black lives matter” and hear “white lives don’t”. Which is an interesting one, because we live in a stunningly multicultural and multicoloured world, and yet western mass media still manages to whitewash all race issues.

The list goes on. Some gay men carrying HIV is read as both all gay men and only gay men. Of course there’s always the favourite of all Muslims are terrorists, and all terrorists are Muslim – two very different opinions, neither of which are correct. And onwards to the milder, but still harmful, views such as bisexuality equalling indecisiveness or greed, and mental illness meaning lack of competence.

In the end it’s all words and interpretations, mixed up with misjudged perspectives and delusional world-views. The big problem is, it is alienating the masses (my group 3 from above) who genuinely do want a better world all round but who can’t find the words to express that solidarity without fear of antagonising others. Language has power, and right now that power is being abused.

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

I’m teaching myself German. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this.

I’m (obviously) a lover of languages. I began this blog to chronicle my year abroad as part of my undergraduate degree studying Arabic, and then continued it when I travelled to Spain for 3 months to support the other half of my course. My family are French, and my parents met in India after they’d each spent several years globetrotting.

So naturally, I love languages.

But I definitely hate learning them. They are all so fascinating, and different, and clever, but they just don’t stick in my head. Grammar is so structured and sensible on paper, but my brain just can’t do it in practice, and I get mixed up between gerunds and adverbs (a worrying confusion, really) and end up spouting nonsense.

Nonetheless, I’ve begun practising German on Duolingo, and am currently (apparently) 17% fluent. Which is interesting because it keeps teaching me phrases like  “A man eats sugar with a dog”, and I’m pretty sure that doesn’t improve anyone’s fluency in a language. I’m also learning Italian which is of course waaaayy easier. And also has much easier pronunciation for my mouth, which gets very tangled in German words.

So despite my hatred of trying to understand case, I shall push on with the German, because life’s about doing what you love, even when you actually hate it.

Morals. You’re welcome.

Back On the Horse

Sometimes, life gives you lemons, and you have to take those lemons, put them in your basket of eggs, and then get on a horse.

I think.

Basically, my last post was all horrible and was about the trials of life and social anxiety and feminism and how some people are a bit awful. I’ve been struggling since then to think of a post to follow up with (I took a picture of my desk, which I’ll talk about sometime), and then today some stuff happened which made me think about the principle of “getting back on the horse”, and since it’s totally applicable to this blog situation, here we go.

Firstly, let’s think about the metaphor, because I’ve never really been on a horse, but I feel like if you fall off then getting back on is HARD. Maybe I’m biased because I’m 5’3″ and most horses are waaaay taller than that and I just think I’d struggle, and horses smell, and it’d probably be a bit distressed and let’s not even go into how I wouldn’t have wanted to be riding it anyway because I can just drive a car.

Metaphor aside then, picking yourself up after a negative experience is one of the most horrible things. It’s the total antithesis to what I ever want to do, because it’d be so much easier to curl up with gin and ice-cream and consign everything in the outside world to “rubbish” and just wallow in general self-pity. BUT, I’m a grown-up now, and that is not how grown-ups behave (except for the part about gin. Very grown-up). So instead, I pick myself up, try and look at the experience and say ‘right, I hated that. What have I learnt?’.

After the Rogue incident I learnt that I am not quite comfortable enough with my body yet to wear things that let people see very much of it. That’s not the most brilliant perspective, but what I’m going to do is not put myself in that position again, while learning to feel more confident. That is my legitimate, adult reaction to the situation. It hasn’t changed how I feel about the whole thing, but at least now I’ve got something I’m aiming for which is positive, and so whenever something recalls the experience I bring the positive to mind rather than dwelling on the thing that went wrong.

So I suppose the moral of the story is, stuff happens, but you have to take your basket of lemon eggs, dust yourself off, get on your horse, and race. Or something.

P.S. – I forgot to mention in all this why you have to get back on the horse. It’s because when you do then you get the wind in your hair and all the awesomeness of knowing you got yourself there.

Dialogical Self

Let’s talk about this, because I’ve spent all weekend reading about it on Wikipedia (a fantastic use of time. And probably a disease).

Firstly, this article is a shocking candidate for the Wikipedia game, which is where you open a page on Wikipedia, and click the first link in the article (excluding links in bold, italics, or brackets). Then, do the same for the next article. The game is trying to find an article which is the furthest away from this page. My current record is 16 articles.

Anyway. Dialogical Self. Basically, when you have voices in your head and they aren’t all yours. It’s fascinating and fabulous and I’m definitely an example, though I expect every blogger in the world is. Your dialogical self is (my understanding anyway) when your internal monologue is an internal dialogue with you playing all of the parts. It’s the way a lot of us reason through potential situations or encounters, weighing up our own multiple viewpoints and even assuming the position of other people and imagining what their reactions will or would be.

This is great for several reasons. Firstly, it relates to dialogism, a theory basically constructed by Mikhail Bakhtin. He was a Russian literary theorist and an all-round fascinating guy (if you find literature and philosophy fascinating and who doesn’t?). Secondly, it’s great because who knew we were so clever, to develop multiple coexisting viewpoints in order to refine how we interact and improve our social experience?

Having read about this, I’m now tempted to try and analyse myself (because of my psychology degree that I have). I’d be fascinated to properly think about all my various “selves” because they definitely clash horns often and I’ve never really considered why before now. I just thought I was generally a bit confused. I also think it completely explains my reaction to most situations, because of this paragraph:-

“…people entering into imaginary dialogues in comparison with ones having mainly monologues are characterized by a more vivid and creative imagination, a deep appreciation of art and beauty and receptivity to inner feelings and emotions. They are curious about both inner and outer worlds and their lives are experientially richer. They are willing to entertain novel ideas and unconventional values and they experience positive as well as negative emotions more keenly. At the same time these persons are more disturbed by awkward social situations, uncomfortable around others, sensitive to ridicule, and prone to feelings of inferiority, they prefer to stay in the background and let others do the talking 

The only bit that doesn’t sound like me is the bit about letting others do the talking, except that I much prefer when that happens – it just often doesn’t and then I feel awkward and fill the void. And I normally do it badly and end up digging my foot out of my own mouth and wishing I’d stayed quiet in the first place. It’s all very weirdly accurate (though I suppose someone has to be the perfect example of psychological theories, otherwise it’s not science).

(I think the use of brackets illustrates it perfectly. I can’t even externalise my thoughts in a blog post without using two voices to do it. Great work)