Lexiculture: dwarf

John Anderson

Wayne State University

Cite as: Anderson, John. 2016. Dwarf. Lexiculture: Papers on English Words and Culture, vol. 2, article 2. https://glossographia.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/dwarf.pdf

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

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The word “dwarf” has a long and intricate history. The Oxford English Dictionary lists four different definitions for the noun form of the word. In order, they refer to humans of smaller than ordinary size, mythological creatures with skill in metalwork, small varieties of plants and animals, and stars with a small mass and a large density. Although each of these four definitions will be addressed on some level, the goal of this paper is to analyze the metalanguage surrounding the use of this word specifically in reference to people with one of the many medical conditions referred to as “dwarfism.” How do people feel about this word? What does it mean, and why do some find it offensive?

Etymology: Dwarfs, Dwarves, and Dwarrows

The English word “dwarf” comes etymologically from the Old English “dwergh.” It is possible that it came by way of the Old Norse “dvergr,” or that it comes directly from the Proto-Germanic “dwergoz” which derives from Proto-Indo-European “dhwérgwhos” (OED Online). The meaning of this word is unclear, although it possibly comes from a root meaning “to deceive.” In Germanic mythology and legend, dwarfs have a reputation as tricksters (Battles). Although generally honest, they follow after a folkloric pattern of supernatural creatures that give people what they ask for, rather than what they mean to ask for.

There is also some disagreement as to whether the plural form should be “dwarfs,” as the plural of roof is roofs, or “dwarves,” as in wolf to wolves. A refined search of Google Ngram, using only those instances of “dwarves” and “dwarfs” used as nouns and including works of fiction, shows that while dwarfs is uniformly more popular, the numbers are not as far apart as one might think:


Many attribute the origin of “dwarves” to J.R.R. Tolkien, who used this spelling in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These charts show that, although he played an important role in its entering mainstream English, this spelling did not originate with him. Most of the usages of “dwarves” before 1940 are in books about Norse mythology, with a few references to human anatomy. In 1937, both The Hobbit and Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were released. Based on this data, the influence of the Disney film was more successful in codifying the spelling, at least until around the 1960’s, when Tolkien’s works became more popular. The usages of “dwarves” after 1980 are more varied, but many are fantasies in the style of Tolkien (Google Ngram). Interestingly, Tolkien himself considered his use of “dwarves” in The Hobbit to be a misspelling. “The real historical plural of ‘dwarf,’” he wrote, “is dwarrows anyway: rather a nice word, but a bit too archaic. Still I rather wish I had used the word dwarrow” (Tolkien). The Oxford English Dictionary lists this as the actual Middle English form of the word, although it provides no examples of its use, nor does it show up on Google Ngram. Today, both “dwarfs” and “dwarves” are commonly used, but the latter is most often used for creatures of myth or fantasy, and the former for humans with dwarfism, though this is not a hard and fast rule.

Mythology: The Origin of Dwarfs

The concept of dwarfs originates in Germanic folklore. The dwarfs of mythology bear a basic resemblance to the dwarfs of fairy tales: they are small creatures that dwell within the earth and have skill in working metals. Additionally, they were seen as a race created before humanity and were associated with ancient megaliths. They bring diseases such as warts and fever, but also are masters of healing. They shun sunlight, may or may not be spirits of the dead, and are reckoned alongside the gods and elves (Battles 32-37). While sometimes portrayed as comic figures, the race of dwarfs was envied by humanity for their wealth and skill, and they may even have been worshipped during the Viking age (Battles 70).

There actually seems to be some debate as to whether the Norse even thought of their dwarfs as small. This idea can be found in many places on the Internet, including Wikipedia (Talk:Dwarf). Proponents of the human-sized dwarf theory will call attention to the fact that dwarfs are never described as small until the thirteenth-century sagas. They also cite as evidence a carving in which the dwarf smith Reginn is shown next to the human hero Sigurd. However, there are two main pieces of evidence against this theory. First, while Reginn is a Norse dwarf name, the Reginn from this myth is not a dwarf at all. The Eddic poem “Reginsmal,” believed to be older than the sagas, describes him as a man – a mortal human – and only “dvergr of voxt”: a dwarf in stature (Battles 38). Why would the poem refer to Regin’s dwarfish height unless it was unusual? Reginn’s dwarf height was probably understood as being smaller than average, as the alternative is that he was unusually tall. Of these two interpretations, it is most likely that the image of a short dwarf persisted into the thirteenth century, rather than dwarfs went from giants to small creatures. Secondly, the carvings in question come from the Hylestad Stave Church, which was built in the late twelfth century at the earliest, and, even then, is a Christian church that cannot be said to accurately reflect the beliefs of Norse traditional religion (Giles). While the oldest sources, of which there are few to begin with, may never specifically describe dwarfs as small, they never give any indication that they are not. So it is safe to assume that when people used the word “dwarf,” they had a small creature in mind.


Reginn (left) and Sigurd (right); Hylestad stave church, 12th century Museum of Cultural History, Oslo University (Giles)

“Dwarf” as a Scientific Term: Animals and Plants, Stars and Planets

According to the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA), and Google Ngram, most of the collocates – that is, words used frequently along with the word in question – of “dwarf” are used in this sense. Some examples from COHA include “species” at number fifteen, “star” at number eight, “trees” at number two, and “white” in a clear first place. Google Ngram’s charts show that for more than fifty years, “white dwarf” has been two to ten times as common as the next runner up. It starts to come into common usage in the early 1920’s. This makes sense, as the term “white dwarf star” was coined by astronomer Willem Luyten in 1922 (Holberg).


Medical dwarfism has been known since ancient times. Images and even remains of human dwarfs have been found in Egypt, dating as far back as 4500 BCE. However, this was not seen as a form of physical handicap, and did not preclude one from holding positions of authority (Kozma). Even some gods were depicted as dwarfs. However, not every society was as accepting as the ancient Egyptians, and throughout much of history, people have alienated and persecuted those who are different. One of the ways this has happened is through the use of pejoratives and derogatory slurs. Could “dwarf” be considered such a word?

“Dwarfism” is the generally accepted common name for the group of over two hundred genetic disorders that cause an abnormal reduction of growth. The most common of these is achondroplasia, which prevents the long bones of the body such as those in the legs and arms from reaching their full size. This is what Google Ngram shows regarding the popularity of various terminologies for medical dwarfism:


Achondroplasia enters the English vocabulary in the early 1900’s, and doesn’t gain or lose much popularity over the years. This is not surprising for a scientific medical term, which would be used in only certain contexts. Dwarfism is about the same age, although it has been used in writing much more commonly, though in the past forty years or so it has been on the decline. This may represent the effects of a modern desire for political correctness. However, the generally most common term, as well as the oldest of these three, is “midget.”

The root of the word is “midge,” a variety of small, marsh-dwelling fly with a short lifespan. Naturally, this word is seen as unpleasant by many. Interestingly, the word midget was once used to describe “proportionate dwarfs,” that is, people who were less than five feet tall, but otherwise resembling healthy adults. During the late 1800’s, the era of sideshows and circuses, to call a little person a midget was to imply that they were well-formed. It was almost an affectionate term at the time. In fact the original reason why the Little People of America changed its name from “Midgets of America” was to be more inclusive to those dwarfs considered “disproportionate” (Kennedy). The connection of “midget” to this sort of physical hierarchy, along with its link to the sideshow era, contributes to its unpopularity.

In April of 2009, the New York Times manual of style made a rare revision, and declared, “that people of unusually (and medically) short stature should be referred to as dwarfs, not ‘midgets’” (Harris). For a long time, though, the Times freely used “midgets,” and only when deputy style editor Philip Corbett received letters from offended readers and did further research into the subject, uncovering its dark and problematic history, was the decision made to change. So it can be said, at least concerning the past several years, that the word “dwarf” is a perfectly acceptable term, and a welcome alternative to “midget.” However, what is considered acceptable terminology one day may not necessarily last long. One example is the various words used throughout history to describe people with cognitive illnesses, including “aments,” “cretins,” and even “idiots,” and of course, the still highly controversial “mentally retarded.” It is not at all uncommon for word meanings to change rapidly.

Portrayal in Media: Various Viewpoints

Google Ngram shows that between 1800 and 2000, “dwarf” was almost consistently used more often in works of fiction. The line graph shows that use of “dwarf” reached several peaks throughout the nineteenth century. This was the period in which the Grimm brothers published various editions of their collected fairytales, such as Snow White. Jacob Grimm was also a scholar of Germanic mythology, and he sought to revive interest in the folklore of his country. It was what Grimm found in legends that inspired both Disney and Tolkien to put dwarfs in the spotlight again in 1937, starting another rise in popularity that lasted until about 1960. But its long association with legendary creatures is what makes “dwarf” a potentially problematic term for referring to human people.


Peter Dinklage, an actor perhaps most well-known for his current role in the HBO series, Game of Thrones, explains his dislike for the way that dwarfs tend to be portrayed in works of fantasy:

“I try not to read too much into it, but there’s a bit of a bias, where you’re thought of as a mystical creature, which is a bit absurd…. I have a great sense of humor — and a dark sense of humor — about everything, but it is a bit narrow-minded sometimes, where if they have a dwarf character, the shoes have to curl up at the end, he has this inherent wisdom, he isn’t sexual, all of that. You look at something like ‘Snow White,’ and each of the dwarves is just one thing — this one sneezes, this one is angry, this one is tired. And that’s sometimes still true for modern-day stories. But it’s not just for dwarves, that could be the case for anybody, for women, for people of color. Right now it’s Middle Eastern people who are all playing terrorists. It’s short-sighted. But life is too short — no pun intended — to be interested in roles that haven’t got any meat to them.” (Vineyard)

Dinklage believes that use of the word “dwarf” serves to reinforce negative stereotypes. Still, while short actors will often find themselves typecast as one-dimensional fairytale characters, even average-sized actors are rarely able to choose what roles they want to play. And for Warwick Davis, an English actor possessing a rarer form of dwarfism known as spondyleopiphyseal dysplasia congenital, his unique stature was what allowed him to enter the field of his career to begin with. When he was eleven years old, his grandmother heard that short actors were needed to play Ewoks in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Today he runs an agency for actors under five feet tall or taller than seven feet. Davis does not mind the use of the word dwarf, or even midget, believing that it is better to use the wrong word than to simply avoid conversation and miss out on the opportunity to gather a better understanding of people who are different. He considers being short part of what made him who he is, and tries to handle adversity with a sense of humor. “If I’d been average height I don’t think I’d have been quite so outgoing… you tend to amplify your personality a little bit, just so as you’re not forgotten” (Gilber).

So, being short can get you a place in the theater. Isn’t this just a continuation of the Barnum-era sideshow? While many of the roles that dwarfs appear in can be trivial or downright insulting, many see them as a way of earning money in order to bring them closer to their life goals, whether that is acting, painting, or medicine (Harris).

Conclusion: It’s Not What You Say, But How You Say It

What are the alternative terms? “Midget” is clearly much more offensive. “Little People” has the same connotations of fantastic creatures, along with a sense of someone who is less important – as in “standing up for the little guy.” Nor does it fit well into every kind of usage. Matt Roloff, former president of the Little People of America, believes that “to an intellectual,” “Little Person” can sound more demeaning than midget (Kennedy).

“Most individuals,” says Dr. Betty M. Adelson, “prefer simply to be called by their given names” (Harris). Regardless of the phrasing, dwarfs are human beings, and those who search for a word to describe people of short stature must be careful to avoid defining them by their condition. This remains true for any person. A derisive tone can make even a generally accepted word sound offensive. Changing a word alone will do little to change people’s opinions. A change in metalanguage begins not in the lexicon, but within the culture.


Battles, Paul. “Dwarves in Germanic Literature: Deutsche Mythologie or Grimm’s Myths?” Published in: The Shadow Walkers: Jacob Grimm’s Mythology of the Monstrous, edited by Tom Shippey. Arizona Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies. Tempe, Arizona. 2005.

Corpus of Historical American English (COHA). Created by MArk Davies, Brigham Young University. <http://corpus.byu.edu/coha/&gt;

“dwarf, n. and adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web.

Gilber, Girard. “Size matters: Warwick Davis is no small talent.” The Independant. 22 October 2011. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/size-matters-warwick-davis-is-no-small-talent-2372841.html&gt;

Giles. “Essay: Doors – Entrances and Exits, Liminality and Sacred Space.” UiO Museum of Cultural History. Published 18 October 2014, modified 19 October 2014. <http://www.khm.uio.no/english/research/projects/religion-and-money/religion-and-money-blog/posts/doors-–-entrances-and-exits-liminality-and-sacred-.html&gt;

Google Ngram. Jean-Baptiste Michel*, Yuan Kui Shen, Aviva Presser Aiden, Adrian Veres, Matthew K. Gray, William Brockman, The Google Books Team, Joseph P. Pickett, Dale Hoiberg, Dan Clancy, Peter Norvig, Jon Orwant, Steven Pinker, Martin A. Nowak, and Erez Lieberman Aiden*. Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books. Science (Published online ahead of print: 12/16/2010) < http://books.google.com/ngrams&gt;

Harris, Lynn. “Who you calling a ‘midget’?” Salon. 16 July 2009. <http://www.salon.com /2009/07/16/m_word/>

Holberg, J. B. (2005). “How Degenerate Stars Came to be Known as White Dwarfs”. American Astronomical Society Meeting 207: 1503.

Kennedy, Dan. “What is Dwarfism?” Big Enough. 2005. <http://www.pbs.org/pov/ bigenough/special_dwarfism_ety.php>

Kozma, Chahira. “Dwarfs in Ancient Egypt.” American Journal of Medical Genetics. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 27 December 2005. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/ releases/2005/12/051227102614.htm>

“Talk:Dwarf (Norse mythology).” Wikipedia. last modified 17 January 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Dwarf_(Norse_mythology)&gt;

Tolkien, J.R.R. “Letter #17.” Letter to Stanley Unwin, Chairman of Allen and Unwin. 15 October 1937.

Vineyard, Jen. “Peter Dinklage Confirms Dominic Cooper For ‘My Dinner With Hervé'”. The Playlist. 10 November 2011. <http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/ 21acc530-0bc1-11e1-817a-123138165f92>


Lexiculture: expat

Michelle Layton

Wayne State University

Cite as: Layton, Michelle. 2016. Expat. Lexiculture: Papers on English Words and Culture, vol. 2, article 1. https://glossographia.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/expat.pdf

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

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Many everyday social interactions, such as meeting a new person, create first impressions and categorization of people based on a number of readily-apparent factors. These initial expectations about people are highly influenced, if not created, by cultural beliefs and norms. Although the labels that people give one another derive from a set of opinions or perceptions of the labeler, these categories are essentially formed by widely shared cultural beliefs and values within a society. Travelers are often the recipients of the most intense labeling because they are seen as outsiders or ‘them’ instead of ‘us.’ This way of thinking usually leads to harsh, unfair, or prejudiced attitudes toward people who were not born in the country where they reside.

This paper will focus specifically on the word ‘expat,’ how it came to be, and its contextual usage in relation to the words ‘expatriate’ and ‘immigrant;’ essentially, who is considered an expat and why? What cultural factors and labels, such as the desire to distinguish between types of travelers and visitors, caused the word ‘expat’ to emerge in a British context with different connotations than ‘expatriate’ or ‘immigrant?’ The primary sources used for this research are Pauline Leonard’s book, Expatriate Identities in Postcolonial Organizations: Working Whiteness, focusing on the racial and social implications of the word ‘expatriate’ or ‘expat;’ a very informative article, published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, “It’s not what it was: British Migrants in Postcolonial Hong Kong,” written by professor of sociology in London, Caroline Knowles, who addresses British citizens’ experiences living abroad and specifically discusses the usage of the word ‘expat;’ and finally, University of Sheffield lecturer, Peter Matanle’s article, “Expatriate Games,” published by The Guardian news website. In addition to these sources, several dictionaries will be used to examine dissimilarities in definitions of ‘expat,’ ‘expatriate,’ and ‘immigrant.’ The contextual usage in various blog posts will also be analyzed, as the aim is not only to focus on official sources, but how the words are actually used in everyday life and viewed by ordinary people.

To study the usage and meanings of the word ‘expat,’ one must first dissect the word that it is shortened from—‘expatriate.’ The word ‘expatriate’ comes from the Latin words ‘ex’ meaning out, and ‘patria’ meaning one’s native country; therefore the simplest and most common definition of this word used today is a person living outside their native country (Expatriate). However, beginning in 1787 according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word was used as a verb in the sense that one could be expatriated, or exiled, from their country (Expatriate, v). This word has been applied to people living outside of their home country for the last couple hundred years and has consistently been used much more widely than ‘expat’ (as the graph below demonstrates), suggesting it can be used to refer to a much broader category of travelers or be used in more contexts.

2-1-1Google Ngram of the usage of ‘expatriate’ and ‘expat’ in books from 1800-2000

Expatriate was shortened, and the word ‘expat’ emerged as a largely British word in the 1960s with different connotations. The Oxford English Dictionary has two examples of the word beginning to be used, in 1962 and 1968, and both are used in a British context (Expat, n).

However, Grammarphobia states that the May 21st, 1961 issue of the New York Times uses the word in quotations, suggesting it was not widely known at this time and may have been the first published use of the word (O’Connor). The origins of the word lie in mid-20th century British beliefs and popularity for wealthy or well-known British people to temporarily live in a different country. At this time it was seen as a status symbol for authors, academics, and aristocrats to be well-traveled; and that holds true today as six million British people, or a tenth of the population, are not currently living in the UK (Knowles). Peter Matanle, a Senior Lecturer and Director of Research at the University of Sheffield, states that in the mid-1900s “being an expat amounted to a movement” in the UK (Matanle). It has become widely used more recently (as the chart below conveys) possibly to describe a larger category of people, but likely due to the effect of globalization and technology on mobility and the increased expectation for professionals to travel away from their country to work for a short time (Definition of “expat”). In the United States the word seems to be used more often to describe people traveling for business, while in the U.K, it is often used to describe wealthy vacationers (as they often spend weeks at summer homes abroad). However, the focus of this paper will mainly address the more common British uses of the word ‘expat’.

2-1-2Google Ngram of the usage of the word ‘expat’ in books from 1960-2000

It is also necessary to examine the word ‘immigrant’ in juxtaposition to ‘expat’. ‘Immigrant’ has been around since the 1700s and is most commonly defined as a person who goes to another country to live (Immigrant). Although this word has a more permanent implication than the most common uses of the word ‘expat,’ these terms are actually quite similar but are used in very different contexts. Although some bloggers who love to travel have stated that the words ‘immigrant’ and ‘expat’ are interchangeable, such as one blogger who claimed “an expat is also an immigrant of course” (Are You an Expat), it seems to be a much more widely held belief that these words are used to describe different groups of people and in very different situations, which will now be discussed in detail (Deo).

The amount of time one can live in a foreign country and still be called an expat is not strictly defined, as supported by the scholarly research of a professor at the University of London who claims that “temporariness involves a wide range of temporalities from a year, to what eventually accumulates to a lifetime of deferred decisions to move-on” (Knowles). This is also demonstrated in a blog post that got a lot of supporting comments, “The time you live abroad does not matter either; you are labelled as an expat whether it’s for a year to sixty years” (“Expatriate” ExpatWoman). The amount of time one intends on spending in a country often distinguishes the word ‘expat’ from the word ‘immigrant’ as a person who eventually plans on returning to their native country at some point. However, if one moves past the official definitions found in scholarly dictionaries and studies how the words are used in everyday language, it is evident that there are larger and more important factors in labeling someone as an ‘immigrant’ or ‘expat’ beyond their length of stay.

When the word ‘expat’ is used to describe someone, many people might instantly have a distinct mental picture of who that ‘expat’ might be (see pictures below). In the UK, this word is most often used to describe a high-class, professional British person who is going to a different country to share their expertise and work, or sometimes just to get out of paying higher taxes. Although this word can be used to refer to Americans or anybody born in a ‘Western’ country, there was not a single American that I mentioned the word ‘expat’ to who knew of the word or did not ask me to repeat it several times and then define it. This word is almost only used by British people referring to themselves or other ‘expats’; and many have claimed this word is elitist because it was produced out of the necessity to distinguish oneself from immigrants (Matanle).



These pictures are the first results of a Google search of ‘expat’ and ‘immigrant’

The question of whether one would be considered an expat or immigrant is very much based on class, race, and the country one is going to and coming from. According to Peter Matanle, the word ‘expat’  “is too easily used as a cultural marker to distinguish people from one another, making it easy for some Britons to feel both superior to and separated from the local people in their host cultures” (Matanle). According to Pauline Leonard, professor of sociology at the University of Southampton, a person usually has to possess three qualities in order to be labeled an ‘expat’: they must be privileged; they must come from ‘the West’; and they usually must be white (Leonard). These terms are often used to include or exclude certain people or groups who do not fulfill these requirements. It can be seen from the above photos, which were some of the most common types of pictures on Google for ‘expat’ and ‘immigrant,’ that these words are used to distinguish between people of different social classes, ethnicities, and cultures.

First, an expat must be privileged so this immediately excludes people who come from countries with few opportunities. Moreover, people who go to another country to try and better their chances for getting a reasonably-paying job or having a higher quality of life are also automatically excluded from ‘expat’ status. Therefore, one is labeled an immigrant instead of an expat if they are leaving a poor country and going to a more privileged one.  Since the ‘Western’ countries are often seen as the most privileged and ‘sophisticated’, a person must be traveling from a ‘Western’ country to either another ‘Western’ country or to a less privileged country in order to be called an ‘expat’ (Leonard). This idea will be discussed in more detail shortly.

The claim that a person usually has to be white to be considered an ‘expat’ can be seen in the above photos, or any photos that come up with a simple search of the word. In fact, many people do not like to use this word because they are aware of and sensitive to the class- and race- based implications. One blogger writes, “Some would reserve the word ‘expat’ for mid-20th century travelers,” as they were all elite white Britons during the period when it first became very fashionable to be well-travelled and cultured (Mark). Knowles discusses ‘postcolonial whiteness’ in her article, asserting that white people are “invisible in terms of ethnicity” and that the usefulness of ‘whiteness’ in suppression and superiority over groups lies in its ambiguity as it “occupies a central but undeclared and unmarked position” (Knowles, 8). Therefore, it is argued that ‘whiteness’ in postcolonial terms is just a concept, not a real thing or referring to a specific ethnicity, however it can still be seen in the context of who is considered an ‘expat’ or not.

A British website that encourages its users to come up with the funniest possible definitions for words, Uncyclopedia, actually presents some useful information on how the words ‘expat’ and ‘immigrant’ are viewed and used, even if it is used in a joking context and meant to be exaggerated. In discussing the ‘expat’ vs ‘immigrant’ label, the article states that the difference in ‘expat’ and ‘immigrant is that “an Expat is cool and rich whereas an immigrant is some poor person moving to a rich country to steal low paying jobs from honest folks” (Expatriate Uncyclopedia). The surprising thing is how many people actually embrace this view. Immigrants are looked down upon and thought to be a problem because they supposedly take jobs from native-born, hard-working people. However, when an expat is sent to another country to work there by their corporation, it is apparent that the company probably did not try to find a native-born person to take the job before looking elsewhere for someone to bring in. In this way, expats also take possible jobs from people who live in these countries, but are not generally viewed with this negative connotation.

It is clear that the word ‘immigrant’ comes with negative implications, and the word ‘expat’ comes with supposedly positive ones. It is evident from the debates over immigration policy that many people from ‘Western’ countries view immigrants as unhelpful, unskilled, and a burden. However, ‘expats’ around the world are viewed as having “skills that contribute to receiving countries and place no burden on host countries” (Knowles). Therefore, it can be concluded that a common belief is that immigrants take jobs and expats create them, or only take jobs that nobody else is skilled enough to do. Also, others traveling to the ‘West’ to live are seen as a problem, whereas ‘Western’ people traveling to other countries are seen as charitable or helpful to that country. This belief is based on factors such as socioeconomic and political conditions of one’s home country versus the country one is moving to (Knowles).

Many bloggers insist that people born in the ‘West’ feel as if their country should be reserved only for native-born people. Some bloggers rightly assert that there is hypocrisy in the idea that immigrants are unwanted in the ‘West’ but many ‘Westerners’ are immigrants themselves in other countries. One blogger, having a conversation with a British ‘expat,’ claims this man “told me how he hated immigrants and wished they would all bugger off to where they came from,” even though this man was on a cruise ship coming back from living in the Caribbean. This blogger, who seems to have a lot of contact with Britons, also states that many people hate being called immigrants because they contribute to their new country and are not “job-seeking flotsam” as he claims many expats believe (Deo). While many non-expats criticize the usage of the word, one blogger states that “people in the expat community, however, seem to use the word as a badge of honor rather than seeing the negative impression of it” (Caitlin). These statements are very illuminating as they demonstrate how one person, if not many, view immigrants, or anyone else for that matter, in relation to themselves as expats.

There is one more factor that is necessary to discuss in the labeling of an ‘expat’ or ‘immigrant’—assimilation into the new culture. Since ‘expats’ usually do not plan on staying long and often have a superior attitude, many do not bother learning the language or anything about their host country; however, immigrants are expected to learn the new language and conform to the new social customs. These processes of “transmission and accumulation are uneven” (Knowles). Emily Prucha, a blogger who focuses on bilingual and multicultural families living abroad, writes that ‘expats’ network and make friends in a very different way than immigrants or even common tourists. She also claims that there are “cohesive communities” of expats who keep to themselves, only visit ‘expat’ bars, and only socialize with other ‘expats’ (Prucha). There are also various websites for expats to come together to share their feelings and make friends online so they do not have to put  as much effort into getting to know people from the new country. Although immigrants might live in a community with people who share their ethnicity as expats often do, there are not accessible and far-reaching resources for them to discuss their experiences or make friends as there are for expats.

The more recent usage of the word ‘expat’ in British contexts demonstrates many cultural values and beliefs. The labeling of a person as an ‘expat’ or an ‘immigrant’ comes with positive and negative implications, as cultural views and stereotypes are ingrained in this labeling. Therefore, the words are used in a way to purposefully include or exclude groups of people, and distinguish someone as being high or low class, and a problem or an asset. So, are you an expat? There seems to be a choice, at least for some people such as wealthy ‘Westerners,’ to call themselves expats or not, but many people, such as immigrants, are stuck with the labels they are given.


“Are You an Expat or an Immigrant and Does It Really Matter?” Shelter Offshore. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://www.shelteroffshore.com/index.php/living/more/expat-or-immigrant-does-it-matter-11011&gt;.

Caitlin. “Thoughts on the Word “Expat”” A Rant A Rave and a Little Bit of Everyday Life. N.p., 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://ktayd13.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/wordexpat/&gt;.

“Definition of “expat”” Collins Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. <http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/expat&gt;

Deo, Ritwik. “The British Abroad: Expats, Not Immigrants.” The Guardian. Guardian News, 9 July 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/09/ british-abroad-expats-immigrants-indians>.

Prucha, Emily. “”Expat” – a Dirty Word.” Prague Monitor. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://praguemonitor.com/2010/09/17/expat-%E2%80%93-dirty-word&gt;.

“Expat.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper. 1 Nov. 2014. < http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/expat&gt;.

“Expat, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 1 November 2014. <http://www.oed.com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/view/Entry/66438?redirectedFrom=expat&&gt;

“”Expatriate”” Expat Woman. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://www.expatwoman.com/global/features_define_expatriate_13846.aspx&gt;.

“Expatriate.” Oxford Dictionaries. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/expatriate&gt;.

“Expatriate.” Uncyclopedia. N.p., 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2014. <http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Expatriate&gt;.

“Expatriate, v.” Oxford English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/66445?rskey=Bb91Qy&result=2&isAdvanced=false#eid&gt;.

Google Ngram Viewer. https://books.google.com/ngrams.

“Immigrant.” Merriam-Webster. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/immigrant&gt;.

Knowles, Caroline. “‘It’s Not What It Was’: British Migrants in Postcolonial Hong Kong.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2007): n. pag. Oct. 2007. Web. 25 Oct. 2014. <https://www.gold.ac.uk/media/its-not-what-it-was.pdf&gt;.

Leonard, Pauline. Expatriate Identities in Postcolonial Organizations Working Whiteness. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010. Print.

Matanle, Peter. “Expatriate Games.” The Guardian. Guardian News, 11 Apr. 2011. Web. 27 Oct. <http://www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language/2011/apr/11/mind-your-language-expat-brits&gt;.

Mark. “Who Is an Expat?” TheNextRoad. N.p., 6 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. <http://www.thenextroad.com/expat/&gt;.

O’Connor, Patricia, and Stewart Kellerman. “Is “expat” Domesticated?”Grammarphobia. N.p., Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2014/03/expat.html&gt;.

Lexiculture Papers, vol. 2

At long last, I am pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of nine new essays in the Lexiculture Project, my collection of undergraduate research papers on the history and cultural complexities of individual English words.   These constitute the contributions to the project from the 2014 (!!) edition of the course, long delayed to to editorial sloth, and will constitute Volume 2 of the series, with Volume 3 to follow in the summer.   Rather than publish these all at once, I’ll be publishing them one at a time, every Wednesday for the next nine weeks, clearly indicated with authorship, and including a link to the PDF version of the article for download as well as the HTML version.  When they’re all published, all of the links will be permanently archived in the Lexiculture section of the site.  Thanks to my students for their forbearance throughout this process.


Where I’ve been (and will continue to be)


For those of you wondering where I’ve been, here’s the stack of grading I just received on Tuesday. It took me the better part of an hour just to get it sorted out the way I like it. Staples removed, paper clips removed, binder clips added, collated with all of the previous comments I’ve made on earlier drafts. I also have the students write up a list of edits that made just as bullet points. 29 papers, ranging in length from 21 to 77 pages. So classes are done, but this stack is probably a good 30 hours of work and these are papers I’ve already read once before. Coffee mug included for scale ( coffee included for sanity). I’ll be back in May.

Language and Societies abstracts, vol. 7 (2015)

The abstracts below are summaries of papers by junior scholars from the 2015 edition of my course, Language and Societies, and presented at the course blog of the same name. The authors are undergraduate and graduate students in anthropology and linguistics at Wayne State University. Over the next few weeks, some students will be posting links to PDF versions of their final papers below their abstracts. Comments and questions are extremely welcome, especially at this critical juncture over the next week, when the authors are making final revisions to their papers.

Kat Slocum: Greensky Hill Native American Methodist Church: the role of language in group identity

Nicole Lopinski:‘The Hobbit’: An Analysis of Popular Media Portrayal of Homo floresiensis

Kimberly Oliver: Voodoo in Popular Music: Linguistic Semantics’ Influence on Identity and Stereotype Formation

Laura Cunningham: #NotAllMen and the Blame Game: A critical discourse analysis of a Twitter hashtag

Krist Bollano: Word Frequency and Online Dating: Self Promotion Through a Text-Based Medium

Adam Bender: Is Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE) Appropriate for Adapting Quechua to Modern Society?

Dovie Jenkins: Logically Speaking: Loglan, Lojban and the Search for a Logical Language

Erika Carrillo: Hoarding and the Material Accumulation of Time

Grace Pappalardo: Hausa Kinship Terminologies: Insights Into Culture and Cognition

Jaroslava Maria Pallas: From Little Acorns Big Oaks Grow: Exploring the nature metaphor in anarchist discourse

Kaitlin Scharra: Menstrual Authority: A Lexical Semantic Evaluation of Kotex’s First 20 Years

Sarah Beste: Pornography of Ruin: The Metaphor of Sensuality in Ruination as It Applies to Detroit

Mark Jazayeri: Arriving at a Cultural Model of Artificial Intelligence

Glenda Wyatt-Franklin: In Front of the White People: Black Speech, White Perceptions, and the Effects on African American Health

Samantha Malette: “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean”: Montserrat’s “Brogue” Examined

Kayla Niner: Don’t Stay Here!: An Analysis of Words Used to Describe One-Star Class Hotels

Madeleine Seidel: Retelling Snow White: The Tale and its Reflection of Western Culture

Michelle Layton: Creating an Image of Purity Through the Use of Metaphor: The Case of Pure Michigan

Theia Easley: Language of Inclusivity: Womanist Theological Thought in Addressing Issues of Social Injustice

Eduardo Piqueiras: Countering an Equitable Multilingualism with an EU English Variant: The Role of Language Policies and Translators in the European Union

Elizabeth Bonora: Identity and Ink: An Interpretation of Kanji Tattoos on English-Speaking Bodies

Wendy Hill: The language of the law: linguistic discord in the courtroom

Livija G. Marina: Serbian Heritage Language Maintenance and Language Shift: Identity of the ‘Voice’ from a Serbian Orthodox Church in Michigan

Andrés Romero: Testimonios of Violence: A Discourse Analysis of Colombian Demobilized Paramilitaries

S.M. Hamdan: Identity & Second Language Acquisition: International Saudi Students Studying Abroad

Kathryn Nowinski: Constructing Identity through Sound: Brand Naming Practices and Phonetic Symbolism

Richard D.H. Bridges: Catching It in the Net: Some Lulzy Acronyms

Jeff Rowe: Divergent Definitions of Food Justice: A Critical Discourse Analysis

Inger Sundell-Ranby: Use of the word ague by pioneers in the Midwest

Call for Papers: Strange Science: Anthropological Encounters with the Fringe

Call for Papers, 2015 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, Denver, Colorado (Nov. 18-22, 2015)

Strange Science: Anthropological Encounters with the Fringe

Anthropology has a long history of interactions with non-mainstream or pseudoscientific ideas. In our scholarship, classrooms, and public outreach, we are frequently confronted by advocates of ideas far beyond mainstream scientific understandings. Some of these ideas are directly challenged by anthropological data, such as ‘scientific’ racism, intelligent design, hyperdiffusionism, ancient aliens, 2012 millenarianism, pyramidology, and cryptozoology. Other pseudoscientific ideas are non-anthropological, but encountered in interaction with publics interested in medicine, the environment, or religion: homeopathy, climate change denial, biorhythms, dowsing, etc. What can – and what should – we do about them? What is our obligation to address (or not) these ‘strange’ sciences? And what tools does anthropology – as a ‘strange science’ itself, confronting challenges to its scientific status both from within and without – bring to bear that other disciplines lack?

Archaeologists have long been interested in addressing their publics about the value of scientific reasoning and in particular in countering mythical and often pernicious ideas about the past (Feder 2014). Similarly, biological anthropologists have done much to address the myth of biological race and to confront creationist ideas (Marks 2012). But our encounters with fringe ideas are more numerous and more complex than these, and cross all the subfields. We are also faced with different sorts of challenges: when these ideas come from our students or consultants, how do we maintain respectful social relationships while still making knowledge claims? How do we justify our knowledge claims in an environment ever more given to epistemological skepticism about the authority of science?

The goal of this panel is to address anthropological encounters with ‘strange science’ in the field, in the classroom, and in encounters with colleagues, from the perspective of scientifically-oriented anthropology across all subfields. Within a framework that posits that anthropology can, indeed, make verifiable truth-claims, abstracts are welcome that discuss any anthropological dialogue or engagement with non-mainstream scientific ideas, past or present, including but not limited to those mentioned above.

Please respond to this call by April 3, 2015 by emailing an abstract of no more than 250 words to Stephen Chrisomalis (Wayne State University) at chrisomalis [at] wayne.edu. A discussant slot would also be extremely welcome. Please feel free to distribute to any colleagues or students who may be interested. As with any AAA panel, all panelists must be registered AAA members and additionally register for the conference.

How and why (not) to go to grad school (Happy National Anthropology Day!)

Today, Feb. 19, is National Anthropology Day.  Now, you may not have previously heard of this hallowed waypoint in the seasonal cycle, and the likelihood that you’ll see Hallmark picking up on this is close to zero, but nevertheless, here it is.

In honor of this most glorious occasion, I will be presenting a talk I’ve given many times before, in various forms, entitled ‘How and why (not) to go to grad school’, in this case, at a seminar sponsored by the Wayne State Anthropology Learning Community.  (By the way, in case you were wondering, learning communities, when well done, are more or less the best.  And ours is the best.)   Stop by if you’re around.


I posted about this topic more than five years ago, when Glossographia was just a baby-blog, in ‘To grad or not to grad‘.  In reading over the old post, I still agree wholeheartedly with the general point.  To simply offer a blanket ‘just don’t go to grad school’, which many faculty do, is wrongheaded.  It’s insulting, and will likely convince the wrong students to avoid grad training, while failing to sway many who shouldn’t apply.  In place of unambiguous injunctions, we need fact-sharing and clear thinking. We should indeed be interrogating our students as to why they want to go to grad school.  We ought to be ensuring that they are aware of (and have clear paths laid for) other career options.  And we certainly shouldn’t be encouraging otherwise ambivalent students to pursue this path.  But advice, not platitudes, is called for.

In several less central respects, however, my position needs to be clarified from the one I advocated in 2009:

– I wasn’t clear enough that an unfunded MA may indeed make sense, if it’s the only graduate degree you want, and if you are pursuing it for clear professional reasons that do not include the PhD.  My original post  may read as assuming that if you are doing an MA, it is because you are eventually planning to do a PhD.  But the vast majority of MA students in anthropology never apply to doctoral programs, and they end up (largely) professionally successful.  Funding is still great, where available, but a targeted two-year masters without funding will likely be worth it in the long run, if you know what you want out of the degree.

– I didn’t emphasize as clearly as I should have the importance of planning, as much as two to three years before you apply to graduate school, to become the sort of applicant whose chances of success are greatest.  You can have a fancy GPA in the upper 3s, but if you don’t have a record of undergraduate research and multiple full-time faculty to support your application, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  Identifying faculty to work with/study under, and projects to undertake, means that you can’t just decide six months before that you’re ready to apply, no matter how bright you (think you) are.

– Like many social scientists and humanists, I probably have some ‘science envy’, and put too much emphasis on the bad market in these fields.  In fact, I probably underemphasized (or was unaware of) just how bad things are in the natural sciences as well.    The programs are larger, there’s the expectation of one or more postdocs before a tenure-track job, and it’s just as terrifying.   Honestly maybe moreso: I do not look at my colleagues on the tenure track in the sciences with envy.

– I really didn’t talk enough (or at all) about the role of class and gender in ‘just don’t go’ advice.  I am  concerned that female students, given the pressures of impostor syndrome and stereotype threat, are more likely to take ‘just don’t go’ to heart, where less or equally capable male students may press on.  That doesn’t help anyone. The role of class, too, in dissuading working-class students from pursuing graduate work, seems to me deleterious to the profession.  Grad school is economically risky, but so too is post-degree unemployment, and I guarantee you that scarce post-BA internships and professional jobs get snapped up with people with social networks and cultural capital to back them up.  For academically-strong students whose family and community ties offer no meaningful employment support for someone with a BA, graduate school may be the least risky option.

Wayne State folks, hope to see you there.  Happy National Anthropology Day!

P.S. Finally, and this is just a minor complaint, but I object strenuously that no one seems to have noticed or commented on the fact that I used the verb ‘decimate’ in its etymologically-correct but practically-useless sense in my original post, to refer to the reduction of something by 1/10 (in this case, endowments).  Hmph!  Do you know how hard you have to work to find a context where you can use ‘decimate’ to mean what pedants think it always ought to mean? What fun is it being an anti-pedant when pedants don’t even notice your playful anti-pedantry?