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GeoCurrents Advertising Policy AND British Slang in The Economist

Submitted by on October 17, 2011 – 7:36 pm 9 Comments |  

Attentive readers may have noticed a small “advertise on GeoCurrents” banner on the website. This feature was added after the blog was approached by several firms interested in posting ads on specific pages that pertain to tourism. In accommodating advertisers, GeoCurrents seeks not to become a profit-making venture, but rather merely to defray some of the costs of running the site. The ultimate finacial goal is to break-even, which currently seems rather distant.

In regard to commercial endeavors, I would like to draw readers’ attentions to the new firm of Kevin Morton and his partner, Jordan Sandoval, K&J Web Production.  Kevin has been managing GeoCurrents for the past half year, after having completely revamped the site’s look and feel. I have been more than pleased with his work, and I would urge anyone interested in hiring outside help for website design and management to contact K&J Productions. According to their promotional materials:

K&J Web Productions as an alternative way for individuals, groups, or small businesses to create elegant and effective websites at the web-savvy college student price. The idea was born out of learning that many businesses in our hometown of San Diego were shelling out ridiculously high monthly payments for mediocre websites. We thought, why not offer an affordable price for a beautiful site? It can be done, and that’s what we’re looking to accomplish. We have a passion for making valuable information, such as that found on GeoCurrents, available in a way that is optimized with technical nuance, making it easily accessible to web surfers.  As a result, we offer academic or article-based pursuits a 50% discount off our normal development rate, and we invite such non-commercial endeavors wholeheartedly.

On a completely different note, GeoCurrents recently criticized The Economist for its use of “crude British slang.” Several readers objected, asking for specific examples—which I could not supply. This week’s edition of the magazine happens to contain several choice instances, all from the “United States” section of the publication.

On page 36, an article on the alleged Iranian bomb plot begins with the assertion that “Iran is a rum country…” A rum country? In querying my family members about the meaning of this term, I received responses varying from “bad” to “drinks a lot of alcohol.” (Jamaica is the quintessential “rum country” to some; see the “rum index” map.) Yet according to the standard definition, “rum” is a “chiefly British term” primarily meaning “strange” and secondarily meaning “presenting danger”—presumably the author had the latter usage in mind. A few pages later (42), an article on Chinese-U.S. relations informs us that the American senate recently passed a bill by a “stonkingly bipartisan margin.” Stonkingly? No one in my family had ever encountered the word “stonking.” Based on context, we all assumed that it means “big.” Yet according to the Urban Dictionary, “stonking” is a “British colloquial expression” meaning “impressive” or “wonderful.” On very next page, the “Lexington” opinion columnist informs his or her readers of the “general bolshiness of assorted Russians, Arabs, and Persians…” Bolshiness? My family members were clueless here, with one volunteering that it might mean “squishiness.”  I had previously encountered “bolshie” as a slang term for “Bolshevik,” and I therefore assumed that the author was arguing that Marxist political beliefs are common in Iran, Russia, and the Arabic-speaking world, a view that is difficult to support, especially for the Arabic realm. The Free Dictionary, however, tells us that this “Brit informal” term actually means “difficult to manage; rebellious.” (A secondary definition, however, does pertain to the radical political left.) Oddly, a Google image search for “bolshie” yields many photos of naked women.

The question remains open as to the effect that such British slang has on the magazine’s large non-British readership. Clearly some confusion is generated, as demonstrated by my querying of an admittedly small sample of American English speakers. But the same group also found the terms quaint and colorful, valuing the British flavor (flavour?) that they impart to the magazine. Rum perhaps, but evidently stonking nonetheless.

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Commenting Guidelines: GeoCurrents is a forum for the respectful exchange of ideas, and loaded political commentary can detract from that. We ask that you as a reader keep this in mind when sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Ryan Lord

    Firstly: ads are fine by me. Clearly you put a lot of work into this site and you, at the very least, deserve not to be losing money.

    As for the slang… I see this really as a result of a systematic coddling of the American public. Britain, amongst other countries, exports a great deal of culture to the US. But that culture is often edited or remade to be more palatable. My wife is from Illinois (I’m British) and at no point during our relationship have I had trouble with any part of her lexicon. On the other hand, 5 years into our relationship, she still comes to me weekly with questions about British English. Americans contrary to the depressingly persistent stereotype aren’t stupid, so maybe they shouldn’t be exempted from learning about the rest of the world’s idiosyncratic use of language.

    Having said that I actually do attempt to edit my language for my wife, mostly successfully, but fairly frequently I’ll say something that I believe is a word that crosses the pond, but apparently isn’t. I’d put “rum” and “stonking” into this category, I’d simply use them unconsciously. However, it does seem as though the Economist uses British slang so frequently that it might actually be an editorial decision to add more flavor/flavour. Something that wouldn’t surprise me at all in fact given how delighted the average American seems to be when encountering British English. Perhaps you’re the exception to the rule Martin, or perhaps it’s less endearing in a semi-academic, internationally published magazine.

    Anyway to a certain extent you should be conscious of your audience, I’d steer away from obvious false friends for example. But asking a group to be extremely proactive in its removal of any trace of its linguistic difference smacks a smidge of cultural imperialism.

    • Martin Lewis

      Interesting points, well taken. I certainly don’t want to see all linguistic differences removed, but I do think that serious publications should minimize the use of slang in order to avoid confusion. I would never think of using the term “hella”– the quintessential marker of the northern California dialect (if such a thing actually exists) — in GeoCurrents.  (I would never use it at home either, but that is because my children would laugh at me.) But I am curious: would “hella” be understood by readers in Britain? The Wikipedia article on the word claims that, “Hella was recently included on the BBC’s list of 20 words that sum up the 2000-2009 decade.” And if I were to use “hella,” would readers find it folksy and inviting or crude and off-putting? I suspect the latter.  On a related note, I prefer British to American punctuation, although I don’t use it. My students tend to use both systems promiscuously. My advice is: “decide if you are going to write in British English or in American English, and then do so consistently. If American, place your periods and commas inside your quotation marks.” I think they find such advice pedantic. 

      • Ryan Lord

        I think the vast majority of British readers would understand the word ‘hella’. I decided to drop the word into conversation with my immediate family. It was considered, amusing, and worthy of comment, but completely intelligible.

        I think you’re basically correct when you say that slang isn’t appropriate in serious publications. Although I think there’s a slight tension over style and functionality going on. Certainly in something slightly towards the more academic end of this particular spectrum, for example Foreign Affairs, you certainly wouldn’t expect to see slang.

        If there’s one class of people who are surely fully entitled to be pedants it is professors. And it is the students’ place in the world to complain about it.

        Excellent post as always.

  • Anonymous

    I’m tempted to say,

    if USAlians don’t like how Poms use the lingo the people of Blighty have taken yonks to cobble together (with help from Picts, Celts, Saxons, Dutch, Normans, Romans, Greeks, Danes, Indians, Aryans, Arabs etc), then it’s about time the USAlians got on their bike and knocked up there own bleedin tongue instead of sponging of the old Dart all the time.

    but I wont.

  • Anonymous

    Point taken, Martin.
    I notice that, by contrast, the New Scientist, also published in London, goes to some effort to be geographically neutral in its language. I think its writing loses a little colour thereby – but you can’t please everyone!

  • Thank you, Professor Lewis, for referencing our new web design service, and for granting me the opportunity to work with you on this site. And to the readers of GeoCurrents, thank you as well. Returning to these pages to read the thoughtful discourse that takes place here daily has made my work to provide an elegant and functional space for that discourse all the more valuable. I hope you enjoy the layout and resources, and feel free to leave me any tips of things you’d like to see.

  • Anonymous

    The Economist Readership

    Jan-Jun 2011 USA 762,804 readers 0.25% of population
    Jan-Jun 2011 UK 210,318 readers 0.35% of population

    A few days ago on another blog a US comment writer complained that the BBC was becoming too USA centric in its news, finance and current affairs reporting, so that he now only watches the comedy, sport and science programs on the BBC.

    This link is a bit old, in 2006 NPR reported  “… when it comes to readership, The Economist is doing great — up 13 percent from last year. That’s on a par with some of the nation’s hottest magazines: celebrity-fueled glossies such as US Weekly and Star.”

    • Many thanks for the information. A student of mine (Claire Calzonetti) once wrote a fine thesis tracking the global coverage of US news publications, such as Time magazine. She discovered that it dropped precipitously from the 1960s through the 1900s. As Time and Newsweek became more like People magazine, focusing on celebrities and popular culture, many serious readers abandoned them. The Economist has picked up much of this readership. 

  • re: Slang
    Google is your friend