Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Eskimo word for 'orientalism'

Some weeks (not more than four or five a month) you just don't get to the Book Review before Wednesday or thereabouts, so it's always good to find one of those got-to-read reviews of a got-to-read book: Hoo hah! Christopher Buckley reviewing Chris Miller's full-scale memoir of the real Delta House, model for the stuff that eventually ended up being funneled toward "Animal House."

The review's a bit disappointing, in that it doesn't tell you how Miller stitches together the Adelphian material that's already seen print. But it gets irritating when our reviewer takes his approach-avoidance thing a step too far:
I hereby take back everything I have said so far. It’s a disgusting, horrid, loathsome book. Miller should be ashamed. No — he should be executed. I issue a fatwa.

Betcha don't. You'd have to sort of be a recognized authority answering a specific question about religious law. Unless ... oh, damn. Unless the NYT still thinks it's somehow "literary" to use "fatwa" as if it meant "death sentence," rather than anything it really does mean?

How "fatwa" came to mean something it doesn't is a long and sometimes slightly entertaining tale,* if you find dumb stuff that newspapers do amusing. It happens because it's a convenient way of using other people's language -- particularly made-up facts about other people's language -- to traffic in cultural generalizations that you couldn't get away with otherwise. And anybody who would do that would ...

The Inuit language contains — what? — 17 different words for “snow”? The AD’s must have twice that many for “vomit.”

Yeah. The Inuit thing. Deskers, remember: When you see "fatwa" used to mean something it doesn't, fix it. Whack the writer on the head and/or send a polite note to the wire service. The Eskimos of the desert are counting on you.

* Told at excruciating length in the sort of article that produces an unlawful union of Edward Said and "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax." Soon to be a major motion picture!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought it was 42!

12:19 PM, November 09, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Arnold Zwicky has an explanation over at the Log:

12:31 PM, November 09, 2006  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

I remember reading "Night of the Seven Fires" while in kollidge and thinking: "This is farking brilliant." Saw the movie in the old Varsity theater, filled with UNC frat boys - none of whom realized they were being satirized. That was equally brilliant.

So, apparently, the definitive book on the NatLamp conspiracy to undermine the morals of the nation has yet to be written. If no one else does it in a couple years, I'll do it when I retire.

Meanwhile, back to the snow/fatwa thing: one reason I've become a grouchy old phart is seeing the same mistakes made over and over. Every winter sees people burning down their house while stealing electricity. Every election brings a new crop of lying scum. Every edition of the paper contains at least one cliche or basic editing error.

It's gotten so that my first impulse every morning on rising is to run to the window, throw it open, and shout "Stop! Stop! For the love of Xenu, stop!"

Luckily I live in the middle of no where, so the fellows with the nets and canvas jacket haven't come to take me away.

Perhaps binding the stylebook in wooden covers, like the old chapbooks, would make them a more effective tool. Rim rats who made the same mistake twice would be wacked with it. It works with dogs and children, no reason it wouldn't work on people with liberal arts degrees.

8:37 AM, November 10, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your objection to the use of "fatwa" in this instance is well taken. However, it would be of more use to those of us who have lost track of the origins of the word - before it began its long, ill-fated journey of misuse - if you had included in your column the definition you believe to be original and correct. A link would also be acceptable.

A reader who cares but has yet to achieve omniscience.
A. Korbel

4:57 PM, November 16, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

OK. The "formal legal opinion" definition can be found in the Wehr/Cowan Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Mozaffari (1998) describes the three-element requirement (questioner, fatwa-giver, specific question). Masud et al (1996)underline the idea that a fatwa has to be about what's asked, and Mozaffari indicates that a ruling without a questioner is a way for scholars to clarify their thinking but not a real fatwa. Both those sources point out that Khomeini's published fatwas usually followed the traditional form.

Here's the abstract of an article that goes into some detail about the 'fatwa' misunderstanding (I can't find the fulltext on a quick Google search; if you want a copy and don't have library access, let me know):

Tnx for the reminder.

5:35 PM, November 16, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

first add:

This should be the fulltext, with refs

7:21 PM, November 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

runescape money runescape gold runescape money buy runescape gold buy runescape money runescape money runescape gold wow power leveling wow powerleveling Warcraft Power Leveling Warcraft PowerLeveling buy runescape gold buy runescape money runescape itemsrunescape accounts runescape gp dofus kamas buy dofus kamas Guild Wars Gold buy Guild Wars Gold lotro gold buy lotro gold lotro gold buy lotro gold lotro gold buy lotro gold runescape money runescape power leveling runescape money runescape gold dofus kamas cheap runescape money cheap runescape gold Hellgate Palladium Hellgate London Palladium Hellgate money Tabula Rasa gold tabula rasa money Tabula Rasa Credit Tabula Rasa Credits Hellgate gold Hellgate London gold wow power leveling wow powerleveling Warcraft PowerLeveling Warcraft Power Leveling World of Warcraft PowerLeveling World of Warcraft Power Leveling runescape power leveling runescape powerleveling eve isk eve online isk eve isk eve online isk tibia gold Fiesta Silver Fiesta Gold
Age of Conan Gold
buy Age of Conan Gold
aoc gold

china tour
beijing tour
beijing travel
china tour
tibet tour
tibet travel
computer monitoring software
employee monitoring

11:08 PM, December 30, 2008  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home