Lexiculture: eleventy

Julia Connally

Wayne State University

Cite as:  Connally, Julia. 2014.  Eleventy.  Lexiculture: Papers on English Words and Culture, vol. 1, article 3. http://glossographia.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/eleventy.pdf

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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The word eleventy originally referred to the number one hundred ten, and later achieved modest fame after it received mention in J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy of fantasy novels, The Lord of the Rings. Today, eleventy is used primarily for hyperbolic purposes and to refer to punctuation overuse, especially on the Internet. How and when did eleventy become a tool for exaggeration? Who uses the word and in which contexts?

Eleventy is composed of the number eleven and the suffix –ty, which represents multiples of the number ten in cardinal numbers. In arithmetic, cardinal numbers are primitive or “natural” numbers and answer the question “how many” (for instance, one, two and three). Cardinal numbers contrast with ordinal numbers, which mark a position in a series (for instance, first, second, and third). The use of –ty stems from the Old English –tig, through a Germanic root that existed as a distinct word in Gothic (tigjus) and Old Norse (tigir), which meant “tens, decades.” [1]

According to Google Ngram, eleventy was used in print early in the nineteenth century. Charles Buck used eleventy in his book A Theological Dictionary, Containing Definitions of All Religious Terms; a Comprehensive View of Every Article in the System of Divinity; an Impartial Account of All the Principal Denominations…Together with an Accurate Statement of the Most Remarkable Transactions and Events Recorded in Ecclesiastical History (1818). Buck wrote, “In the eleventy century they were exempted by the popes from the authority established; insomuch, that in the council of Lateran, that was held in the year 1215, a decree was passed, by the advice of Innocent III. to prevent any new monastic institutions; and several were entirely suppressed.”[2] The use of “eleventy century” is not typical and likely reflects a typographical error for the word eleventh.

An identical error occurred in 1834, when Samuel Astley Dunham used eleventy in his book A History of Europe During the Middle Ages, Vol. IV. Referring to Anglo-Saxon poets, Dunham wrote, “So little has our ancient language been studied, that we have no critics capable of distinguishing the style of the seventh from that of the eleventy century…The first specimen is evidently from an Anglo-Saxon poet—of one hostile to the barbarous Danes, whom he calls heathens and pirates. It is the death of Brithnoth; a composition that must doubtless be referred to the eleventy century.”[3]

In 1854, Thomas H. Palmer used eleventy in its mathematical context in Arithmetic, oral and written, practically applied by means of suggestive questions: “…Forty-five from a hundred and forty-eight? [or eleventy-eight.] Seventy-two from a hundred and forty-eight? Thirty-six from a hundred and twenty-nine? [twelvety-nine]…[4]

In 1897, R.A. Brock, secretary of the Southern Historical Society, edited and published Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXV. Page three hundred seventy-six of that book, a history of Confederate States of America forces, refers to P.B. Akers of the Eleventy Infantry of Lynchburg, Virginia. It is likely that in this context, eleventy was a typographical error for eleventh. The word eleventy does not appear elsewhere in the book.[5]

In 1921, Margaret Wilson published her short story “A Little Boy’s Utopia” in Atlantic Monthly. Wilson used eleventy to refer to an indefinitely large number: “No grown-up people, no babies, no girls. It was a world of boys, eleventy and a hundred strong.”[6]

In his 1917 novel The Job, Sinclair Lewis used eleventy in a hyperbolic context: “Oh, I dun’no’; you’re so darn honest, and you got so much more sense than this bunch of Bronx totties. Gee! they’ll make bum stenogs. I know. I’ve worked in an office. They’ll keep their gum and a looking-glass in the upper-right hand drawer of their typewriter desks, and the old man will call them down eleventy times a day, and they’ll marry the shipping-clerk first time he sneaks out from behind a box…”[7]

Printed use of eleventy was not common between 1900 and 1950. In the early 1960s, however, the word became increasingly popular. This phenomenon was possibly due to the publication in 1954 of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Fellowship of the Ring. The book is the first volume in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series and the sequel to his earlier children’s book, The Hobbit. In The Fellowship of the Ring’s first chapter, Tolkien’s iconic hobbit character Bilbo Baggins celebrates his eleventy-first, or one hundred eleventh birthday.[8]

In their book The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary, Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner suggest that Tolkien gave his hobbits “a practice used by our forefathers,” but that he may also have known of similar words in Icelandic upon which he based his fictional language.[9]

Tolkien’s books have sold about one hundred million copies worldwide.[10] His popularity prompted the publication of a number of books dedicated to his works. At least three were published in the 1970s, including The Middle-Earth Quiz Book (1979), A Tolkien Compass (1975), and The Tolkien Companion (1979). Each mentions Bilbo Baggins’s eleventy-first birthday.[11]

According to Google, Internet groups and chat rooms referenced Tolkien’s use of eleventy as early as 1994.[12] In addition, the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, released in 2001, was enormously popular among theatergoers. According to the Internet Movie Database, the film remained among the top ten grossing films in the United States for thirteen weeks. It is estimated that The Fellowship of the Ring’s film version alone grossed more than eight hundred sixty million dollars worldwide.[13] The enormous popularity of Tolkien’s written and filmed works at a time when the Internet became increasingly accessible were likely the single greatest influence on eleventy’s presence in the English language.

Use of eleventy in another context, to indicate hyperbolic numerals, became popular in 2000, when the television comedy show Saturday Night Live aired a sketch in which the cast member playing actor Keanu Reeves competes on Celebrity Jeopardy. In the sketch, Reeves bets “eleventy-billion dollars” on Final Jeopardy, but fails to answer the question (“Just write anything”). When the cast member playing Jeopardy host Alex Trebek informs Reeves that eleventy-billion isn’t a number, Reeves replies, “Yet.”[14]

Eleventy-billion has since become a popular way among fashionable Internet posters to describe hyperbolic numerals. The use of the hyphenated form, however, appears to be distinct from the use of eleventy in a Lord of the Rings context.

Eleventy is also a trendy way to mock Internet posters who overuse exclamation points. Urbandictionary.com notes that “Since many people preferred using the Caps-Lock to the shift key, they would be unskilled with the shift key…and it would end up coming out as !!!1!!!!111!!!! or things along that line.”[15] Urban Dictionary also defines eleventy as “a fictional number used to describe an immense amount or the result of a cat walking across the numbers of a keyboard.”[16]

The website freejinger.org, which has about seven thousand two hundred registered members, also uses eleventy in its hyperbolic numeral sense, often to refer to families with many children. “These families all have eleventy billion kids, so I would think the lure of money would be more easily forgiven than looking at those evil, tempting womenfolk.”[17]

Free Jinger posters also use eleventy in its punctuation overuse context. They refer to Rebecca, a blogger with a penchant for exclamation points, simply as Rebecca Eleventy, sometimes with a string of exclamation points interspersed with the numeral one.[18]

Thus far, eleventy is primarily used by fans of The Lord of the Rings and by trendsetters. It has been proposed that in the future, eleventy will be used to refer to the decade from 2010 to 2019 (or more accurately, from 2011 to 2020). This is possibly due more to J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence than to widespread knowledge of eleventy’s numerical origins

References

Brock, R.A. Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXV. 1897.

Buck, Charles. A Theological Dictionary, Containing Definitions of All Religious Terms; a Comprehensive View of Every Article in the System of Divinity; an Impartial Account of  All the Principal Denominations…Together with an Accurate Statement of the Most    Remarkable Transactions and Events Recorded in Ecclesiastical History. 1818.

Dunham, Samuel Astley. A History of Europe During the Middle Ages, Volume 4. 1834.

“Eleventy.” Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com. 23 Oct. 2013.

“Eleventy.” Urban Dictionary. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define/php?term=Eleventy. 26     Oct. 2013.

Freejinger.org.  http://freejinger.org/forums/viewforum.php?f=8. 23 Oct. 2013.

Gilliver, Peter, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner. The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the     Oxford English Dictionary. 2006.

Google Groups.    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!search/eleventy%7Csort:relevance/alt.fan.tolkien/j9QAAsAI-lY/iBf96MJsXUIJ. 29 Dec. 2013.

Google Ngram Viewer. https://www.books.google.com/ngrams/chart?content=eleventy&year_start=1800&year_ end=2000. 1 Nov. 2013.

Lewis, Sinclair. The Job. 1917.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).”     http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120737/.  29 Dec. 2013.

Palmer, Thomas H. Arithmetic, oral and written, practically applied by means of suggestive questions. 1854.

Shippey, Thomas. “The Hobbit: What has made the book such an enduring success?” The Telegraph. 20 Sept. 2013.

“SNL Transcripts: Tobey Maguire: 04/15/00: Celebrity Jeopardy.” Snltranscripts.jt.org.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings. 2012.

Wilson, Margaret.  “A Little Boy’s Utopia.” The Atlantic Monthly: Volume 127, 1 Jan. 1921.


[1] Online Etymology Dictionary.

[2] Buck 335.

[3] Dunham 22-23.

[4] Palmer 36.

[5] Brock 376.

[6] Wilson 639.

[7] Lewis.

[8] Tolkien.

[9] Gilliver, Marshall, and Weiner.

[10] The Telegraph.

[11] Books.google.com.

[12] Groups.google.com.

[13] Imbd.com.

[14] Snltranscripts.jt.org.

[15] Urbandictionary.com.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Freejinger.org.

[18] Ibid.

Lexiculture: bromance

Alistair King

Wayne State University

Cite as:  King, Alistair. 2014.  Bromance.  Lexiculture: Papers on English Words and Culture, vol. 1, article 2. http://glossographia.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/bromance.pdf

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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Research Question

How does the emergence of the term “bromance” reflect societal expectations of masculinity and male homosocial relationships?

Origins

It was not until late 2008 to early 2009 that the word “bromance” burst into the American consciousness. A combination of “bro” (a commonly used abbreviation of “brother,” used among male friends) and “romance,” the word was suddenly everywhere. Seemingly overnight, magazines, newspapers, and even nightly news programs were filled with articles and stories detailing this latest trend in friendship. It is a simple enough term, merely giving a specific, modern name to a pre-existing concept while simultaneously taking it to the next level. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a bromance is an “intimate and affectionate friendship between men [or] a relationship between two men which is characterized by this.” The earliest quotation that the OED gives for the term is a more casual definition from the April 2001 edition of a publication called TransWorld Surf and says, “Bromance—Romance between bros. Example: ‘It looks like there’s a bit of bromance between Ryan and Matt.’” The Times of London claims the word goes back even further to skateboarding magazines in the 1990s, where it was used in a similar manner “to describe the affections of über-buddy boarders” (Maher 2009). Neither of these provide much further insight, but to put it all together very simply, a bromance is an especially close friendship between two men. The top definition on Urban Dictionary would go a step further and say a bromance is between two straight men[1], but that excludes the many homosexual or bisexual men who have been part of self-described bromances.

Media

The main impetus behind bromance’s rise to fame was a slew of movies released in 2008 and 2009 with an emphasis on male homosocial friendship, similar to the buddy-cop genre. The film I Love You, Man, starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segal as bromance partners, in particular caused the term to skyrocket in popularity. The Times provides a brief summary of what makes their characters’ relationship so special: “The men go to the beach, the bar, and the park together. They talk for hours on the phone. They have self-described ‘man dates,’ and discuss fine food and weepy movies. Though both officially heterosexual, they are also, it seems, somehow in love.” Essentially, the two are best friends and are unafraid to proclaim their platonic love for each other.

bromance1

It proved to be an appealing concept to men, because around the time of the movie’s release in early 2009, worldwide Google searches for the term “bromance” suddenly spiked to their second highest point of all time.[2]

bromance2

Of course, I Love You, Man was just one bromance films out of many that were released during that time period. Once producers realized how much money there was to be made in buddy flicks, the theaters were soon full of them (Callaghan 2010). The television channel MTV even aired a reality show called Bromance in which men competed to become best friends with TV personality Brody Jenner (Ogunnaike 2009). The bromantic attitude experienced a fast diffusion from screen to reality and men all across the nation were soon literally and figuratively embracing their closest male friends.

bromance3

Context

In the United States, bromance was frequently advertised as the male equivalent to female best-friend relationships (Hubbard 2008). Previously, men who were perceived as being too close were sometimes ridiculed by bigots and accused of being homosexual. Men were encouraged to keep their emotions repressed and confessing even a platonic love to another man was taboo. The macho attitude was prevalent, and while men could be friends, it was considered unusual if two men were as close as two women were. However, the bromance movement made these intimate, male homosocial relationships acceptable. Hugging, sharing of deep emotions, and spending extensive amounts of time together were no longer seen as strictly feminine activities. Two “bros” could have dinner together, go shopping, see a movie—anything. As long as it was under the title “bromance,” all would be well. Deep connections were encouraged, being half of a bromance was considered “cool,” and the situation allowed men to behave in what would usually be perceived as a “gay” manner. Not just in regards to closeness and hugging, but many bromance partners joked about marriage or being together for the rest of their lives. In a classic example, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have publicly called themselves “hetero lifemates.”[3] When men in the media were open about their self-proclaimed bromances, it showed that not only was it acceptable to be that intimate with another man, but that you could still be manly and heterosexual while doing so—something that was of great importance to the more insecure of bromance partners.

Reaction

This is where the dark side of bromance begins to emerge. While men were encouraged to be more open and caring towards their “bros,” there tended to be an air of (to borrow a very “bro” colloquial phrase) “no homo” that pervaded all their interactions and the relationship in general. This was, of course, highly offensive to the LGBT community as it suggested that there was something wrong with homosexuality and that male-male intimacy was only okay if it was completely heterosexual and if that heterosexuality was regularly reinforced with the use of words like “bro.” The fact that these bromantic relationships were being lauded by the media and adopted by men all over the country was highly frustrating to some (Callaghan 2010). To experience such progress in the acceptance of homosocial relations and yet maintain such a backwards perception of homosexual relations, from which bromance participators were perhaps ironically drawing much of their inspiration, was insulting. Although some men treated their bromance with less of a “don’t worry, it’s not gay” attitude and more of a “so what if we are?” attitude, it was not as common as its homophobic counterpart.

Today

As seen on the previous Google Trends graph, interest in the word “bromance” has more or less leveled out. After years of constant use, the term has fallen out of vogue, and articles discussing the latest bromances are harder to come by. Such stories and articles do still exist, but the word does not carry the buzz it used to and is most often used by misguided older writers trying to connect with today’s youth. One of the highest profile recent cases of a media-declared “bromance” comes from around the time of the 2012 American elections (and again earlier in 2013) when news outlets began reporting on President Barack Obama’s supposed bromance with Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey (Epstein 2012). Clearly, it is not quite the hip, young term it used to be when reporters are applying it to middle-aged politicians of opposing political parties.

bromance4

Conclusion

I began this project by asking what the usage of “bromance” has to do with masculine ideals and male-male platonic relations. According to my research, the emergence of the word “bromance” prompted a wave of men to become closer than ever before to their “bros.” While previously it was frowned upon and unusual for two men to be too personal and open with each other due to such behaviors being perceived as effeminate and thus supposedly inappropriate in our society, this new fad allowed them to be openly affectionate with their friends. It represented an interesting shift in societal expectations of masculinity. The spread of “bromance” broke down some of the more rigid masculine ideals but it also brought with it further homophobia and merely exacerbated intolerance for homosexual relationships as bromance participators repeatedly emphasized that what they were doing was not gay. The fact that this was how bromances were sometimes interpreted—that the actions were “gayer” and not simply those of good friends—is troublesome. While it is lamentable that there had to be a special word to allow for the full acceptance of deeper male friendships and that it was something that could not develop on its own under the classic label of “best friends,” it is even more lamentable that it was accompanied by cries of “don’t worry, it’s not gay,” because apparently that is where the line has to be drawn. Bromances are acceptable, but they will never let you forget that that is all it is, and that anything more would be crossing the line. “I love you, man. But no homo.”

References

“Bromance.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, June 2013. Web. <http://www.oed.com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/view/Entry/378903>.

“Bromance.” Urban Dictionary. Urban Dictionary, 30 May 2005. Web. <http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bromance>.

Callaghan, Greg. “A Fine Bromance – TREND TRACKER.” The Australian Magazine 4 Dec. 2010. LexisNexis. Web.

Donnelly, Matt. “Matt Damon: Ben Affleck Is His ‘Hetero Lifemate'” Los Angeles Times. Tribune, 13 Dec. 2011. Web. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/gossip/2011/12/matt-damon-ben-affleck-we-bought-a-zoo.html>.

Epstein, Reid J. “The Bromance Continues…” POLITICO. POLITICO LLC, 1 Nov. 2012. Web. <http://www.politico.com/politico44/2012/11/the-bromance-continues-148036.html>.

“Google Trends: Bromance.” Google Trends. Google. Web. <https:/www.google.com/trends/explore?q=bromance>.

Hubbard, Jeremy. “SIGN OF THE TIMES; THE BROMANCE.” Nightline. ABC. New York, New York, 9 Apr. 2008. LexisNexis. Web. Transcript.

Maher, Kevin. “Bromance Movies – It’s a Guy Thing; Film I Love You, Man Is the Latest ‘Romantic Comedy for Guys’. Kevin Maher Spots a Hollywood Trend.” The Times [London] 28 Mar. 2009. LexisNexis. Web.

Ogunnaike, Lola. “Are You and Best Buddy in a ‘Bromance’?” CNN. Cable News Network, 15 Apr. 2009. Web. <http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/04/15/bromance/>.


                [1] The UrbanDictionary.com top-voted definition for “bromance,” originally posted in 2005, is as follows: “Describes the complicated love and affection shared by two straight males.”

                [2] As seen in the Google Trends graph on this page, displaying relative search volumes and interest over time for the query “bromance.”

                [3] As seen in Matt Donnelly’s 2011 Los Angeles Times article, “Matt Damon: Ben Affleck Is His ‘Hetero Lifemate.'”

Lexiculture: Aryan

David Prince

Wayne State University

Cite as:  Prince, David. 2014.  Aryan.  Lexiculture: Papers on English Words and Culture, vol. 1, article 1. http://glossographia.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/aryan.pdf

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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The word Aryan is a term that was popularized and most commonly thought of in modern society as being related to Nazi Germany and their views of white supremacy. Today we can find organizations that use the term ‘Aryan’ to define themselves and their ideologies. Such groups include but are not limited to Aryan Nations, Aryan Brotherhood, Aryan Guard, White Aryan Resistance, and Aryan League. These organizations have several traits in common with each other. They are focused around a common ideal of white supremacy, racial prejudices and hatred. They are also often found being called ‘Neo-Nazis’. Nazi Germany conducted massive genocides based on racist and ethnocentric ideologies which focused around the blond-haired blue-eyed ideal of the German Aryan. This term is today so strongly focused around this 20th century Nazi usage and carries a strong negative stigma, which has prevented its use in academic and many common social circles. The idea of the Aryan race in western culture was used as scientific terms and hypotheses in the 18th and 19th centuries, long before the rise of the Third Reich. Nazi Germany took many of the ideas that were prevalent at that time to support their racist views. These ideas were historical hypotheses about the evolution and origins of western language from India and Iran and their spread in and out of Europe. This raises the question: how did the word ‘Aryan’ change from an honorific adjective used thousands of years ago in Indo-Iranian languages to a word associated today with a Germanic blond-haired blue-eyed master race?

Where did the word ‘Aryan’ come from?

The original roots of the word Aryan can be found in the Sanskrit and Avestan (the ancient Iranian language of the Zoroastrian scriptures) languages found in India and Iran. The Sanskrit ārya and the Avestan/Zend form (Airya), are the roots to the word Aryan which mean “belonging to the faithful, of one’s own tribe; honourable, noble” (Sanskrit Dictionary). It is a name that the ancient Indians and Iranians applied to themselves in contrast to the outside world, which they considered “base-born and contemptible” (Dwight 30). It is also a word that they used to describe their language and is considered to be the oldest autonym for the Indo-European language family. The usage of the word ‘ārya’ (noble) to define themselves and their language is similar to the word Слава (Slava) in Slavonic languages. Slava means ‘glory’, and that root is used to define the Slavic people as the glorified people. (Dwight 30). Usages of ārya can be found in Āryāvarta, or ‘home of the Aryans’ which is what ancient Sanskrit literature refers to as the Indian homeland (Sanskrit Dictionary).

Why did the word move into the west?

The study of Sanskrit in the 18th century was driven by contemporary philologists. Philology is a study that tries to discover and explain “the origin, history and structure of the words composing the classical languages and those connected with them, whether cognate or derived” (Dwight 193). Philology conducted earlier attempted to trace back languages such as Greek and Latin into Hebrew, which they viewed as the original language, according to Christian beliefs. This was unquestioned by the church and the scientists of the time. The paradigm of language having its root in Hebrew was contested by Gottfried Leibniz, a German philosopher, sometime around the turn of the 18th century. Leibniz wrote in a letter to Tenzel, “To call Hebrew the primitive language is like calling the branches of a tree primitive branches, or like imagining that in some country hewn trunks could grow instead of trees.” He also asked, “If the primeval language existed even up to the time of Moses, whence came the Egyptian language?” (Muller 1861:126). This was the beginning of doubt on the roots of language originating with Hebrew.

William Jones was a philologist who strived, like many if not most other philologists of his time, to trace the roots of language back to the Judeo-Christian myth of the destruction of the tower of Babel. He took an interest in Indian culture and founded the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, an organization that sought to study Indian and oriental cultures and languages. Until this point, knowledge about India had been relatively untouched by western society. He produced a lot of works about India and Sanskrit, and eventually hypothesized a common root to Sanskrit and other languages, such as Latin, Greek and Persian (Lamb & Mitchell 31). He summed up his beliefs in a famous statement he presented in his Third Anniversary Discourse to the Asiatic Society in 1786.

“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists: there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family, if this were the place for discussing any question concerning the antiquities of Persia”.

This began a new wave of research and a change of paradigm about the roots and development of Indo-European languages. The first concept of a Proto-Indo-European language started with Jones. Philologists, based off of Jones’ ideas began to start searching for this hypothetical pre-language, and instead of turning to Hebrew, they began to focus their energies on Sanskrit.

How was ‘Aryan’ first interpreted in western culture?

The first usage of Aryan, or rather Arian, in western culture was by a man named Friedrich Schlegel, a German poet and philologist. He had taken an interest in studying the Indo-European languages. He was the founder of the studies of comparative Indo-European philology (Bonfiglio 145). Comparative philology utilized the technique of comparing two different languages and inducting similarities from them in attempt to find common linguistic trends in order to search for a common root. He began to look at a comparison of people and their language in a nationalistic way, viewing a certain race of having a certain language. In his book Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of India) (1808), he hypothesized that the Aryans of northern India came to Europe from India and the Aryan language they brought influenced the languages of the modern day Europeans. He discovered similarities to the Ari- root and the German word “Ehre”, which means honor. He also related Ari- to “Erben” (heirs) and “Wehren” (defenders). He made the point that they were similarly pronounced and that the German words drew directly from the “Arian language” and that Germans must have been descendants of the Arians. At this time, the view of the term ‘Aryan’ was purely linguistic. Philologists talked about Aryan as group of people that spoke a certain language and the path and influence that language had over time. The Aryan people were none other than the speakers of the Aryan language.

How did Aryan begin to be viewed as a race?

In 1855, Joseph Arthur comte de Gobineau, a French aristocrat, wrote a book entitled The inequality of the Human Races, which was one of the first examples of scientific racism. His book describes characteristics of each of the human races, which he categorizes as three: white, black and yellow. He holds Christian views to back up to some degree his argument and believes that “Adam is the ancestor of the white race” (de Gobineau 118). He states several characteristics of each of the races, and shows the white race to have the best qualities as well as “the monopoly on beauty, intelligence and strength” (de Gobineau 209). He says that all civilizations on earth today are derived from interracial mixing of white, black and yellow races. He goes on to say that the German people are the original pure Arians, or rather that the Arians were ‘Les races germaniques’, and that most of the other civilizations all had Aryan blood in them, although they were polluted. The three races that he portrayed laid the basis for race analysis for the rest of the 19th century. This was one of the first publications that went in depth about certain characteristics of certain races, as well as a hypothesis of a 3 root race system. His initial purpose for his work was to show why there was a degeneration of societies and what was causing it. His hypothesis was that the race of the people determined how successful they were (de Gobineau 26). Because of the belief of the Aryan success and power as the root of European languages, they were viewed as an example of the pure white race.

These ideas were supported alongside the contemporary ideology of unilineal cultural evolutionism that was perpetuated in the 19th century by sociologists such as Herbert Spencer, Auguste Comte, and Lewis Morgan. Unilineal cultural evolutionism was an ideology which was believed to be a universal succession of evolutionary stages that take place in societies, starting with savagery, progressing to barbarism and eventually reaching the pinnacle which was contemporary Western civilization. De Gobineau’s work portrayed a link to the less civilized people in relation to their race, implying that there was something about their race that made them less civilized and unable to become as such. This added a dehumanizing and separating effect between white Europeans and those of a different race that were not, according to their ideologies, civilized.

Where did the Aryans come from?

Philology has always believed that there must be a common root, a protolanguage, to modern European languages. Much of the philology of the 19th century was still guided by Christian ideologies and beliefs, especially that of the Tower of Babel. They wanted to find the root of the language and assumed a certain type of people spoke the language. They believed that the closer they got to the original language, the closer they got to the original people. They saw that the Arian influences in many languages were great so they sought after the Proto-Aryan language, and by doing so, searched for the Proto-Aryan people that spoke that language. This was the beginning of the blend of language and biology.

Max Muller, a German-born philologist, was the first to mention and talk about the “Aryan race” in English in his 1861 Lectures on the Science of Language. He hypothesizes that the roots of the Aryans were agricultural nomads and the term AR- goes back to the original proto language and means “to till” or “open the soil” and he gives examples of similarities in several languages (239). However this nomadic people grew larger and and in his book, Biographies of words, and the home of the Aryas (1888), he proposed that an Aryan invasion of India, in which the “dark aboriginal inhabitants” were invaded by “their more fair-skinned conquerors” took place (245). The Indian invasion theory led to a shift in people wondering where the Aryans hailed from. This theory is one which many later philologists will clutch on to and make it a main point of their research. In his book he talks at length about the concept of the Aryan ‘race’. He popularized the term, even though in his work he says that “Aryas are those who speak Aryan languages, whatever their colour, whatever their blood” (245). Muller’s idea of ‘race’ was that race was the language, culture and religion not the physical appearance.

“[I]n early history of the human intellect, there exists the most intimate relationship between language, religion and nationality- a relationship quite independent of those physical elements, the blood, the skill or the hair, on which ethnologists have attempted to found their classification of the human race”

He viewed the Indians as being ‘Aryan brethren’ and that Europeans and Indians belonged to the same race. Muller’s ideas of race, however, were not regarded. Philologists would eventually use the term ‘race’ in context to have a meaning more biological than sociocultural, something that Muller was in part responsible for, but had not intended.

Robert G. Latham, an anthropologist, in the 1850s attacked Max Muller about his idea of the Aryans and their roots in India. Latham believed that race was innately biological and that the Aryans could not have been the Indians. He argues that the Indians had never conquered anything, but rather that European accomplishments far outshone the accomplishments of the Indians. Therefore the Europeans were part of the white race, and the Indians were part of the yellow race (Arvidsson 47). Latham strongly opposed Muller’s ideas and instead proposed a radically repositioned theoretical homeland of the Aryans. Rather than being in or near India, he positioned it near Scandinavia, presenting an argument that the Lithuanian language has many of the archaic features that Sanskrit does. He also felt it was easier to explain that the Aryans emigrated from Europe than to believe that all the different groups and cultures in Europe found their way out of Asia. In Elements of Comparative Philology (1862) he says

“Has the Sanskrit reached India from Europe or have the Lithuanic, the Slavonic, the Latin, the Greek, and the German, reached Europe from India? If historical evidence be wanting, the a priori presumptions must be considered. I submit that history is silent, and that the presumptions are in favor of the smaller class having been deduced from the area of the larger rather than vice versa. If so, the situs of the Sanskrit is on the eastern, or south-eastern, frontier of the Lithuanic; and its origin is European” (611).

Muller hypothesized that the Aryan invaders hailed from somewhere near Lithuania, and said that Lithuanian had as many archaic features as did Sanskrit (Arvidsson 142). This theory was well received and propagated among Europe. Their sense of identity was changing. The locality of the Aryan homeland was brought to the Europeans, and the idea became very popular.

The shift that took place about the understanding of the Aryan birthplace developed within the mindset of the romantic nationalism that was taking place, especially in Germany after the Franco-Prussian War and the reunification of Germany. The idea of an European homeland went along with folklore’s focus on Germanic material (Arvidsson 142). It was not until Karl Penka, an Austrian philologist and anthropologist, made the proposal in his work, Die Herkunft der Arier (1886), that “the pure Aryans… are represented only by the North Germans and Scandinavians, a most prolific race, of great stature, muscular strength, energy and courage, whose splendid natural endowments enable it to conquer the feebler races to the East, the South and the West and to impose its language on the subject peoples” (46). The homeland of the Aryans, according to him was, as Latham thought, in Scandinavia. Theodore Pösche, in Die Arier (1878), laid the basis describing the appearance of the Aryans as being blond haired, blue eyed and fair skinned, and that the home of the Aryans must be where these traits would be most dominant (Arvidsson 142). The Aryans, the pure white race, still existed. There was a huge sense of national pride, especially in Germany, where scientists stressed the similarities of the Scandanavian and Germanic peoples. The ‘Nordic race’ became synonymous with the ‘Aryan race’ (Arvidsson 143). This pride of being the master race, the most perfect people, was in part main reason in why Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were able to rise to power.

Aryan. What happened to this word? Why did this happen?

Aryan went from being a linguistic term defining a culture of people in India that spoke a hypothetical proto –language, the Aryan language, to being a term for a perfect biological master race that originated in Europe. Much of the history of this word is based off of misunderstandings and using contemporary science to fulfill one’s own agenda. Many of the original assumptions based off of the language, such as the connection Schlegel made between Sanskrit and German, were not viewed as nationalistic at first, just proof towards German having a direct decent from the original proto-language. Aryans were closer to the roots of the languages, but it was only cultural. There was no one people to whom this language belonged, only a shared area and linguistic roots. The concept of the Aryans as those that speak the Aryan language began to change when the Indian invasion theory was developed by Muller. The invaders invaded India and brought the Aryan language. Questions such as “Who were these invaders?” and “Where did these invaders come from?” started to be asked.

An Aryan homeland was envisioned. The Aryan language became fused to the Aryan people, and the view that the Aryan people came from someplace and were one nationality took over the idea that the Aryans were anyone that spoke the Aryan language. The Aryans were viewed as mighty conquers, and philologists began to wonder where these people originated from. With racist ideologies beginning to develop and a strong sense of European nationalism growing, the Europeans theorized that they were the original Aryans, because only the white race could have been capable of doing that which the Aryans had done. The Europeans had created this view of the Aryan race. There is no proof that there even was a Proto-Indo-European language, but it was taken as fact. So as theories piled upon theories, the term Aryan got further and further away from the original theory. ‘Aryan’ started as a culture of shared linguistic history, changing to the language of a group of people who invaded India, and then to the language of a nationality. European ethnocentrism pervaded the philologists’ minds and research and through them the Europeans created their own mythical Aryan race.

References

Anthropological Review. Les Origines Indo-Europeennes, ou les Aryas Primitifs, Essai de Paleontologie Linguistique. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 1863

Arvidsson, Stefan. Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science. 2006.

Bonfiglio, Thomas Paul. Mother Tongues and Nations: The Invention of the Native Speaker, 2010

Dwight, Benjamin Woodbridge, Modern Philology: Its Discoveries, History, and Influence. With Maps, Tabular Views, and an Index, 1877

de Gobineau, Joseph Arthur Comte, Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines (An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races) (1853–1855)

Jones, William. The Third Anniversary Discourse, on the Hindus, 1786

Lamb, Sydney M., & Mitchell, E. Douglas, Sprung from Some Common Source: Investigations Into the Prehistory of Languages, 1991

Latham, Robert G. Elements of Comparative Philology (1862)

Müller, Friedrich Max. Lectures on the science of language, delivered at the Royal institution of Great Britain in 1861 [and 1863], Volume 1, 1861

Müller, Friedrich Max. Biographies of words and the home of the Aryas. 1888

Penka, Karl. Die Herkunft der Arier (1886)

Sanskrit Dictionary. http://dsalsrv02.uchicago.edu/cgibin/romadict.pl?page=39&table=macdonell&display=simple

Schlegel, Friedrich. Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of India) (1808)

Lexiculture: Inquiries on Words

At long last, I have put together my long-promised collection of undergraduate papers from my Language and Culture course last term, entitled the Lexiculture Papers.  This is a new top-level section of Glossographia accessible from the menu bar, above.  The papers (my introduction, below, plus eight student essays) are accessible through that page, but each will also be published as its own post, along with a downloadable PDF version.  All of the papers in the project are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


Stephen Chrisomalis

Wayne State University

chrisomalis@wayne.edu

Cite as:  Chrisomalis, Stephen. 2014.  Lexiculture: Inquiries on Words.  Lexiculture: Papers on English Words and Culture, vol. 1, Introduction. http://glossographia.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/intro2.pdf

(Download PDF version)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

The Lexiculture Papers comprise student scholarship in linguistics and anthropology, bearing on the relationship between words and the social milieux in which they are coined, used, and transformed.  In choosing a neologism for this concept and for this project, I am consciously rejecting other terms, some of great antiquity (etymology, lexicography) and some of great recency (culturomics).    Lexiculture aims to carve out a distinct interdisciplinary space, using concepts from sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, to study the ‘culture of words’ from a perspective accessible to lay readers and scholarly audiences alike.

This project had its inception in 2010.  As a professor of linguistic anthropology at Wayne State University, I teach a course each year entitled Language and Culture, which is required for all our undergraduate anthropology majors.  Many of these students come into the class with a vague interest in language, but also significant trepidation or even loathing at the sound of words like grammar and linguistics.  Moreover, while some of my students have some knowledge of other languages, many of them do not, leaving English as the chief touchstone through which I can frame key concepts in the field.    I developed a pilot project on the word chairperson (Chrisomalis 2010) followed by an experimental student project in my 2010 course, before putting it into full practice in the 2013 version of my course (Chrisomalis 2013).

The term lexiculture is not entirely of my own invention; after coining it, I discovered that Robert Galisson had originated it (in French) in 1988 and used it in several publications thereafter, in much the same sense that I am using it (Galisson 1988, 1999).  The common point of interest in our approaches is that words are seen as discrete, analyzable aspects of cultural facts, and thus ways of understanding social change.   However, to my knowledge, it has not percolated into the English-language scholarship to date.

Of course, neither Galisson nor I are the first to reflect on the importance of individual words and their meanings for understanding social life.    Raymond Williams’ Keywords (1976) is perhaps best-known and widest-cited of these, seeking to demonstrate complex interrelations and semantic shifts in the basic vocabulary of the humanities and social sciences.   Wierzbicka (1997) takes a cross-cultural, cognitive and linguistic approach to similar sorts of issues in her Understanding cultures through their key words and other publications.    These have the advantage of a substantial scholarly apparatus, and enjoy their well-deserved reputations.    But for the student just taking the first steps into research of any kind, what they lack is a means to the joy of discovery in the social sciences of language, of collecting data on new words, transformed words, and just plain weird words, and deriving a scholarly analysis.

My own (perceived) inability to convey to my students the joy of conducting their own linguistic research proved to be the major impetus for the Lexiculture project.  In a field like archaeology, my departmental colleagues introduce students to research through work on large, collaborative field and laboratory projects in which they can develop their skills over time.    In contrast, linguistic research is frequently seen as the purview of the ‘lone wolf’ and to require a steep learning curve, before which nothing serious can be accomplished.   I became convinced that yet another class full of rote and rigor was hardly a blueprint for student success.

Given the wealth of tools available today, my entry into linguistic research for my students is through individual words, their histories, and their transformations.  It is probably the case that I could not have done this project five or ten years ago because so many of the tools at our disposal online did not exist then.    Linguistic corpora (such as COCA and COHA) and tools for massive textual analysis (most notably the Google Ngram Viewer) stand out among these, of course.  But even having regular access to the online searchable Oxford English Dictionary makes a huge difference for students who may come into the class thinking of ‘the dictionary’ as an abstract tome containing ‘the language’.    Using Elizabeth Knowles’ (2010) How to Read a Word as a core text, I aimed to get students first and foremost to think about words as aspects of social life, and only secondarily as subjects of quantitative research.  Beyond specifically linguistic tools, I wanted to encourage students to look at how the words they were researching intersected with social and historical trends at particular times, and how they changed over time.

There are certainly parallels between lexiculture and the work done by proponents of culturomics, the quantitative analyses of texts, which is a sort of branch of corpus linguistics using data compiled by Google (Michel et al. 2011).  Culturomics, and the Google Ngram viewer that is its primary public analytical tool, is important, and as you will see in the papers collected here, most of my students make use of Ngrams or other related tools of analysis.  I share the conviction of the folks at the Culturomics project that “quantitative methods can be a great source of ideas that can then be explored further by studying primary texts.” (culturomics.org) But the question is, how ought one to do that?   What works well and what doesn’t?   Rather than get into the (by now rather extensive) scholarly debate over whether these tools have any value (they clearly do), lexiculture seeks to actually use this approach in tandem with innovative theoretical and methodological approaches from the language and human sciences.

I developed the concept of lexiculture as a way of making the linguistic joys of lexicography and etymology intersect with the intellectual interests of my students in the social sciences.  To be sure, an etymological puzzle can be amazingly fun, but antedating is not a substitute for analysis.    Because I am a linguistic anthropologist (and not, principally, a dialectologist or a corpus linguist or a historical linguist, any of whose skills could be applied here), my particular focus is to get junior scholars (and, indeed, senior scholars!) thinking about the language-culture intersection in new and productive ways.    I want to get them to think about new words not as individual inventions, but through their adoption into speech communities, through their transmission at particular historical moments, and through their transformations within social contexts.

The papers in this project constitute detailed individual student work conducted in the span of a one-semester intermediate-division undergraduate course of around 30 students.  None of the students had extensive background in linguistics or linguistic anthropology prior to taking the course.  Students chose words from a long (~100 items) list that I developed on the basis of their potential interest, or, if they wished, they could make a formal written proposal to analyze another word.  The words on my list were single English words or two-word phrases that I felt might be of interest, and had their primary area of historical interest between roughly 1800 and the present.  This time delimitation is necessary, in part, because the datasets that are freely available to students largely cover this period, and in part because of the more specialized knowledge that would be required to cover more distant periods (or, for that matter, non-English words).    Of the 30 submitted projects, 12 were invited for submission to the project, of which the eight published here were submitted by the student authors.

It is my hope and expectation that, given the high quality of the submitted papers and the positive student response to the project, volume 2 of the Lexiculture Papers will be published here online in March 2015 or earlier based on next year’s class.

Sources

This is the list of sources given to Language and Culture students at the initiation of the project, and forms a wide potential range of materials useful for any particular lexicultural project.  Some of these (marked with *) are accessible only through university library subscription, while others are more generally available.  All of these links were active as of March 2014.

*Oxford English Dictionary

http://dictionary.oed.com/entrance.dtl

Comprehensive English dictionary with historical information

Online Etymology Dictionary

http://www.etymonline.com/

Comprehensive English dictionary of word origins and histories

Google Books

http://books.google.com/advanced_book_search

Books, any language, 1500 – present

Google NGram Viewer

http://books.google.com/ngrams

Word frequencies, English and other languages, reliable for 1800 – 2000

Google Scholar

http://scholar.google.com/advanced_scholar_search

Journal articles, any language, 1900 – present

Google News Archive

http://news.google.com/archivesearch

Newspaper articles, mostly American English, 1850 – present

Google Groups

http://groups.google.com/advanced_search

Usenet newsgroups, 1985 – present

Library of Congress – Chronicling America

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov

American newspaper articles, 1836-1922

*Proquest Newspapers / Proquest Historical Newspapers

http://elibrary.wayne.edu/record=e1000733~S47

Newspaper articles and other sources, 1740 – present

*LexisNexis Academic

http://elibrary.wayne.edu/record=e1000033~S47

Articles, essays, newspapers, 1980 – present

COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English)

http://www.americancorpus.org/

400 million words in American English, various, 1990 – 2012

COHA (Corpus of Historical American English)

http://corpus.byu.edu/coha/

400 million words in American English, various, 1810 – 2009

References

Chrisomalis, Stephen. (2010). What do students want to know about lexicography?  http://glossographia.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/student-lexicography/

Chrisomalis, Stephen. (2013). Lexiculture redux: new adventures in teaching linguistic anthropology. http://glossographia.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/lexiculture-redux-new-adventures-in-teaching-linguistic-anthropology/

Galisson, Robert. (1988). Culture et lexiculture partagées: les mots comme lieux d’observation des faits culturels in Observer et décrire les faits culturels. Études de linguistique appliquée (69), 74-90.

Galisson, Robert. (1999). La pragmatique lexiculturelle pour accéder autrement, à une autre culture, par un autre lexique. Etudes de linguistique appliquée, 116(OCT-DEC), 477-496.

Knowles, Elizabeth. (2010). How to Read a Word.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Michel, Jean-Baptiste, Shen, Yuan Kui, Aiden, Aviva Presser, Veres, Adrian, Gray, Matthew K, Pickett, Joseph P, Hoiberg, Dale, Clancy, Dan, Norvig, Peter, and Orwant, Jon. (2011). Quantitative analysis of culture using millions of digitized books. Science, 331(6014), 176-182.

Wierzbicka, Anna. (1997). Understanding cultures through their key words : English, Russian, Polish, German, and Japanese. New York: Oxford University Press.

Williams, Raymond. (1976). Keywords : a vocabulary of culture and society. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lexiculture: nymphomaniac

Christen Helper

Wayne State University

Cite as:  Helper, Christen. 2014.  Nymphomaniac.  Lexiculture: Papers on English Words and Culture, vol. 1, article 4. http://glossographia.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/nymphomaniac.pdf

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

(Download PDF version)

Introduction

In the 1960s there was a new wave of feminism rising in American culture; women were rallying against the homemaker image and pushing toward a more modern, independent, and influential image.  During this time there was a ‘Sexual Revolution’ making an imprint on American culture; women were becoming more open and proud about their sexuality.  They viewed themselves and their actions as liberated and powerful, but to outsiders they were viewed as the new-age deviant nymphomaniacs. Nymphomaniacs, women who express and pursue an excessive amount of sexual activity, have felt a strong backlash for centuries to the cultural norms and gendered expectations of women in Western cultures.  But where did the rise of the nymphomaniacs begin, and how did they become such an iconic taboo in Western cultures and societies?  As our society strives to make steps toward more progressive and accepting ideologies, will women have to continue to keep their sexual identities hidden?

History and Etymology

The origin of nymphomaniac can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece; the word nymphe means “bride” or “young wife” (www.etymonline.com).  The word then goes on to give rise to the Greek mythological characters with the same name; The Nymphs.  According to Classical mythology, the nymphs are minor female deities and protectors of springs, mountains, and rivers; they are represented as young, beautiful girls (Mythica).  There are five different types, each named for the landmark or location they were entrusted to protect: celestial, water, land, plant, and the underworld.  They never grew old or died from old age, and in some legends they gave birth to demi-gods.  These free spirits were set apart from the common, mortal woman of Classical Greek life because they could not be tamed by men; they never married.  The gods and goddesses most commonly associated with nymphs are Artemis, Apollo, and Dionysus.  Figure 1 is a classical painting of nymphs.

nymphomaniac1

Figure 1: ‘Bathing Nymphs’ – Palma Vecchi, c. 1525-28.

This is an Italian artist’s representation of what mythological nymphs could have looked like.  An important feature of these women is their comfortable appearance and body language; they are creatures of nature.  Their nudity isn’t meant to create the poster image for sexual desire or promiscuity, but to display the most natural state for all humans and divine beings.  This portrait captures the original meaning behind the word nymph.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, nymph went through a semantic shift.  Doctors began to add the suffix mania to form “nymphomania”; a disease in which women suffer through an excessive sexual desire (Dictionary).  Women accused of being nymphomaniacs were often sent to hospitals or asylums where doctors would treat these patients with series of traumatic and violent procedures; most commonly hysterectomies, lobotomies, and various other techniques that by today’s standards would be considered cruel and unusual.  Unfortunately many of the accused women did not have any form of a mental disorder or cognitive impairment; they were usually sent away by fathers or husbands for not conforming to archaic cultural norms for women’s behavior.

Nymphomaniacs and Satyriasis

Figure 2 displays the Google Ngram comparison of the words nymphomania and satyriasis.  Just as nymphomania refers to the excessive sexual urges in women, satyriasis is the excessive sexual urges in men.  This word also takes its roots in Greek mythology as well as having a similar semantic shift involving psychiatry.; however, around 1880 nymphomania appears to be used almost three times as much as satyriasis in literary publications – but why?  If both words are used to describe a person with excessive sexual compulsions and with identical symptoms, why is the female diagnosis much more commonly used and recognized?

nymphomaniac2

Figure 2

One hypothesis reflects the differences in the names themselves.  When one hears a word that includes the suffix mania, it is automatically associated with a mental or cognitive impairment.  This then leads one to start associating other characteristics of what one might know about other manias; mood swings, aggression, erratic behavior, etc.  In general, abnormal behaviors.  When a woman is diagnosed as being a nymphomaniac, she is immediately stigmatized as having a sort of immoral, uncontrollable and irrational behavior; she is a danger to society and possibly threatens the moral guidelines for other women she may come in contact with.  On the other hand, if a man is diagnosed as having satyriasis, the name doesn’t do as much as to trigger a preconcieved notion as to what that might entail.  The suffix sis in medical terms is usually associated with a physical ailment, such as dialysis or neurofibromatosis, or even a biological event (meiosis or biogenesis).  Its name doesn’t automatically trigger thoughts of abnormal or uncontrollable behavior, but more of an abnormal condition involving bodily function.  This still leads to question why one gender is left with a much more burdening stereotype of the same state.

Nymphomaniacs and Literature

A part from the tragic, medicinal history behind the term nymphomaniac, there is another event that launches the use of the word; the 1955 novel Lolita.  Written by Vladimir Nabokov, it is the controversial story of a middle-aged man who becomes infatuated with a twelve-year old girl.  He eventually seduces her and begins a sexual relationship with the girl, despite her fragile, young age.  The protagonist, Humbert Humbert, has had a longstanding interest in pubescent-aged girls; he refers to them as nymphets.  Throughout the novel Humbert frequently uses this term, as well as a few others, to justify is his sexual advances of a young girl.  By giving his love interest a title that suggests that she is sexually promiscuous or has insatiable sexual appetite, he is drawing attention away from his own perversions.  Lolita is then portrayed in a completely different way; no longer is she an innocent adolescent, but now is a vixen and antagonist using adult behavior.  While it is clear that in the novel the young Lolita is objectified and sexually exploited by a much older man, the words associated with her character have an oppositional view.  Around the time of Lolita’s publication in 1955, a dramatic increase occurred in the usage of the words nympho and nymphet, as shown in Figure 3.  Although the context of the two words is not specified in the NGRAM search, it is rather coincidental that their sudden gain in popularity runs along the same time as the release of what is considered to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

nymphomaniac3

Figure 3

Notice that until approximately 1950 nymphet was virtually nonexistent; nympho also takes a dramatic increase in use around the same time.  Could this be a direct influence from Lolita?

Figure 4 compares the same three terms, but also introduces the term hebephile, a type of chronophilia in which one is primarily or exclusively sexually interested in pubescent individuals approximately eleven to fourteen years of age (Wikipedia).  Humbert is described in character analysis as being a hebephile, as throughout the story he is fufilling his sexual fantasies with Lolita; yet it is the words associated with her character analysis that transpire into culture and common vocabulary use.  Could this be due to gender gaps in society at the time of its release?  Even though adult-child relationships were considered morally unethical and taboo, did society still dissect Lolita’s character as being an explicit character, despite her age, simply because she is a young, unorthodox female?

nymphomaniac4

Figure 4

Transition/Conclusion

As we progress further into the 21st century, the gender isolating terms of the past are taking on new names, as well as new identities.  Women are breaking away from the Victorian Era stereotypes of being the silent, restrained housewife and bridging the gender inequality gap.  Nymphomania is being replaced with more neutral terms such as hypersexuality and sex addiction.  This neutralization of nymphomania reduces the shame and attention that was once predominately geared toward women.  Hypersexuality, defined as a dysfunctional preoccupation with sexual fantasy for a period of at least six months (Weiss), is a part of sex addiction.  Figure 5 shows the increase in these new expressions as they begin to replace the older in cultural aspects of the English language.

nymphomaniac5

Figure 5

The term sex addiction does not appear until the early 1980s, peaks in the 1990s, and then drops back down around the turn of the century; within the past five years it has regained some of its popularity within its use in pop culture.  The recent trend has been for celebrities (mostly male; Tiger Woods, David Duchovny, etc.) to come out as having sex addiction issues after a scandalous event or failure in personal relationships are covered by the media.  Since American culture is greatly intertwined with media and pop culture, this could be a huge contributing factor in the eradication of the use of nymphomania and satyriasis.  Media is one of the biggest contenders in the ways that language shapes culture (whether it’s subliminal or not); the words that are chosen for today’s news reports and magazine articles are the words that will be repeated in tomorrow’s conversation.

References

Dictionary, M.-W. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Retrieved November 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nymphomania

Mythica, E. (n.d.). Nymphs. Retrieved Novemeber 1, 2013, from Encyclopedia Mythica Online: http://www.pantheon.org/articles/n/nymphs.html

Weiss, R. (n.d.). Hypersexuality: Symptoms of Sexual Addiction. Retrieved November 2013, from http://www.psychcentral.com: http://psychcentral.com/lib/hypersexuality-symptoms-of-sexual-addiction/00011488

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebephilia

http://www.etymonline.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from Online Etymology Dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=nymph&allowed_in_frame=0

Picture Credit : http://spenceralley.blogspot.com/2011/12/masters-of-venice.html

What’s so improper about fractions?

Yesterday, as part of the Wayne State Humanities Center brownbag series, I gave a talk entitled, “What’s so improper about fractions? Mathematical prescriptivism at Math Corps”, based on my long-term ethnographic research in Detroit.   For those of you who might be interested, you can watch the video below (or on Youtube itself), and the powerpoint is available for download here.

AAA itinerary

For the next several days I will be at the American Anthropological Association annual meetings in Chicago, Illinois.  Unfortunately I am once again ridiculously over-committed with committee work and departmental service and other such fun things, but if any of my readers are going to be there, feel free to track me down.   On Friday afternoon, you could check out my panel, Thinking and Talking about Metalanguage and Metacognition (Conference Room 4C).  Friday evening at the Society for Linguistic Anthropology business meeting, my student Sarah Carson will be receiving the SLA’s undergraduate essay prize (announced here).  Saturday from 10am-2pm, you could come to the exhibit hall where I’ll once again be hosting the Wayne State table at the Graduate School Fair (now with more swag for eager passers-by).

There are so many panels of interest (and so many opinions on what counts as interesting) that I can hardly list all the ones I wish I could go to (see above re: horribly over-committed).  But I do want to draw your attention to one really great panel of interest to the subject matter of this blog, unfortunately tucked away on Sunday morning: More than an Utterance: Indecipherable Scripts and the Materiality of Communication (Conference Room 5G) featuring a thoughtful slate of cross-cultural work on undeciphered and indecipherable writing systems.

I’ve promised myself this year to use my Twitter account to good effect, and so if you’re not already following me @schrisomalis, you could follow me and give me a little extra incentive to actually follow through.