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April 11, 2021


Kipling would have understood it perfectly. He had personal experience with this kind of "diplomats" and on the other hands the often overlooked or even disdained people that had to to the actual work or had to clean up the mess with methods that would look rather ugly to outsiders. It's the basis of many of his stories. And those guys were also often seen as unsuitable for the 'proper' diplomatic service because they lacked the pedigree or were not 'presentable'. And in some stories, although iirc more in earlier ones, there were characters that switched between both spheres and potentially caused a scandal when that was discovered by the higher-ups. Ironically, these days Kipling is often portrayed as a glorifier of the outward side of empire (i.e. the first group) while during his lifetime he caught a lot of flak for openly and harshly criticising these folks.

IIRC, our old friend Turbulence used to get upset over the use of "quantum leap" to mean a big change, when in fact a quantum jump in its original meaning is very tiny.

I always thought his consternation was half-misplaced, since I'm pretty sure the popular usage came originally from the fact that a quantum jump was, as Merriam-Webster puts it, "an abrupt transition (as of an electron, an atom, or a molecule) from one discrete energy state to another." The point was the abruptness of the transition, not its size.

But people do seem to use it to mean "big" nowdays, probably with no notion where the phrase came from, or what a quantum is.

Maybe this comment will invoke the spirit of Turbulence and he'll come and say hi.

I was particularly taken with one story, possibly because I grew up on a farm. There was a guy who had been in country during WW II. After the war, he went home to the Midwest, to run the family chicken farm. When the farm was sold, he decided to go back to visit.

He didn't have lots of fancy credentials. But he did know chickens. So when he looked at the chickens in the village, he could tell at a glance that they were short on calcium. Which was also why they were only laying around 50 eggs a year -- one a week rather than something close to one a day.

He didn't try to set the villagers up with fancy commercial chicken food with extra calcium. He took a bucket, got on his bike, and went up the road to where there was a limestone outcropping. Brought back a bucket full, ground it up, and spread it on the ground in the coop. Egg production skyrocketed. In a subsistence farming economy, if you double or triple egg production, that's HUGE. And if it can be done by the locals on their own, with just a bucket and hammer and bicycle, you've made a big difference the the lives of the whole village.

(He also tried to get some Rock Island Reds imported, to cross breed with the local chicken. But it wasn't a big fancy infrastructure project, so the State Department declined to fund it.)

Graham Greene said it was the Quiet Americans who must be watched for their ugliness.

I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines near the end of the Marcos era.

There were several male, loud (who fit the ugly American prototype ... one referred to Filipinos as a "bunch of "flips", though there were Aussies I met who fit it even better; my God, they dripped with racial contempt) Americans among my fellow volunteers, whom I and many volunteers kept our distance from and so did the Filipinos.

It was embarrassing, especially as there was a suspicion in the Philippines and other countries, that PC was merely cover for CIA, though I interacted with a USAID fella, whose previous assignments in South Vietnam were viewed with justified suspicion.

He was spooky, and maybe a spook to boot.

Oddly, or perhaps not, both of the arsehole volunteers had utter contempt for government, even as they picked it clean.

One, I'm sure, to this day lives and breathes FOX Trumpism.

I stayed in the hotel where Greene wrote (or was said to have written) part of the novel Quiet American. The Ugly American was a response to that novel which describes Americanism to a tee, it is not possible that we are doing anything wrong, so how dare you tell us we are. [ed. the response to the novel described Americanism to the tee]

It's also a reason why Americans can't seem to get their head around structural racism. Most recently, Loomis at LGM pointed out that science will be racist if it unthinkingly reflects the norms and standards of society and got the mob after him.

The stories in the Quiet American weren't fiction, but it is easy to see how they contributed to an attitude of 'of course we can fix it, they just aren't doing it right'. In addition, there is always a lot more than meets the eye as this article (behind a paywall, but sci-hub...)


The Ugly American, published in 1958, was a literary blockbuster that offered a powerful vision of how the United States should fight communism in Asia. Yet despite the textual simplicity of the novel, it had a complex and layered backstory. Its characters were not wholly fictional but were based on real-life models, whose work in Asia laid the backdrop for the novel’s vignettes. Adding an additional layer of complexity, two of those models lived covert lives—one as a closeted gay man working with the Central Intelligence Agency (cia), another as a cia officer tasked with putting down peasant insurgencies—that belied their public images.

One can only assume that the people who made so much use of the phrase in the 1960s and 1970s had never actually read the book either.

Well, I read the book in the 60s, and my memory of it (which I've just checked by looking at summaries) is that the title was intended to be ironic, contrasting the physical ugliness of one American with the moral ugliness of many others.

Most recently, Loomis at LGM pointed out that science will be racist if it unthinkingly reflects the norms and standards of society and got the mob after him.


Loomis' reductionist misanthropic shtick deserves getting-after.

How many other popular culture memes are, in fact, the direct opposite of what they originally meant?

2nd A

cleek for the win!

Vying for 2nd place (after cleek) may I suggest the popular culture reverence for armed civil servants?

"Our troops" are always "fighting for our freedom" in popular (politically correct, if you prefer) parlance. "Law enforcement officers" are generally brave, trustworthy, and selfless -- and referring to power-tripping asshole cops as anything but "bad apples" marks you as a soshulist who hates America.

The list of popular pieties is rather long:
1) "Job creators" are always the tax-break-deserving capitalists, never the job-consuming proles whose custom is what makes capitalists hire people in the first place.
2) "Faith" is praiseworthy, whatever its dogmatic content. Libruls tend to subscribe to this more than conservatives do, because conservatives are generally inclined to mean "faith in Jesus" even when they don't spell it out.
3) "The Real America" has come to mean a place where a shrinking minority of actual Americans lives.
Of course, it matters what "originally" means, when asking "How many other popular culture memes are, in fact, the direct opposite of what they originally meant?"


Of course, it matters what "originally" means, when asking "How many other popular culture memes are, in fact, the direct opposite of what they originally meant?"

My intention was that it meant:

In its initial (prominent) use, it meant one thing. Whereas today it means the opposite.
For any of your examples to qualify, there would have to be a time when the particular piety was generally accepted as meaning one thing. But now, the same words, the same piety, is used to mean the opposite.

For example, if "job creators" once meant people who create jobs. And now the same term is used to mean people who destroy jobs. Or if "faith" changed from meaning belief in God to meaning atheism.

I don't think any of the examples qualify. At most, they are pieties which are no longer believed by a significant portion of the population.

I don't think any of the examples qualify.

They qualify as being true, at least.

Hm, what about 'family values'? At least I get the impression that these days it is almost exclusively used by people who a) oppose any policies that actually foster those and b) violate those tenets in their personal lives on such a regular base that 'family values guy' or 'party of family values' have become almost synonymous with hypocritical sociopath(s).

'fiscally responsible' (and 'party of fiscal responsibility') went the same way, i.e. not taken seriously by almost anyone using it.

A German example would be 'Niemand hat die Absicht...' ('no one has the intention to...') which since 1961 means 'that's exactly what we intend to do'.*
The reason is that this sentence (opening) vies for first place for most blatant public political lie in German history with 'Seit 5:45 wird jetzt zurückgeschossen.' ('since 5:45 fire is/gets(?) returned')of 1939.

*it should be mentioned that there is (to be) no 'but' in the following sentence or it is not this meme.

hsh and Hartmut, those are great examples of hypocracy. But what I'm talking about is slightly different: a term for which the meaning is now the reverse of what it originally was. And those using it have no clue what it originally meant.

Diversity seems to mean conformity...

What did conformity mean before it didn't mean diversity?

Diversity seems to mean conformity

maybe you should recheck your dictionary?

Is this the new diversity or the old conformity, or vice versa?


Lunch seems to mean lynch, or am I being overwrought in the service of making a point?

‘Terrific’, originally ‘inspiring fear’, now means ‘excellent!’.

‘Awful’ is similar, but took the opposite turn.

Would Teddy Roosevelt have used "bully" to describe He, Trump?


TR's use would depend on whether he was using it as a noun or an adjective. That is, he might well say "Trump is a bully." But he wouldn't say "Trump is a bully fellow."

Turns out, the adjective more closely echoes the original meaning. But somewhere in the 17th century the noun shifted meaning. ObWi -- where we learn new (and often obscure) stuff every day!


Ahh, just thought of this one. Political correctness Here's the wikipedia definition
Political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated PC) is a term used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society.

Which doesn't sound like a bad thing, right?

But the term never had a neutral meaning. Check out the wikipedia page to see how it was one thing and then another. Quite interesting.

Can't find the date but 'non sequitur' once had a Sunday strip where a father tried to explain how a certain word became to mean the opposite of its original meaning. Then he asked them, whether they knew what word he meant. The answer of one of said kids: "No, but it sounds like a lot of liberal crap to me."

OK, by browsing back patiently for an hour or two:

In a similar vein (though not about meaning-inverterd words):

Well, given the large, and growing, segment of the population which at least claims to be independents, we're probably no longer in danger of blowing up the phone system. (Which comment only makes sense if you've read Hartmut's secong link.)

"pro-life Republican"

proportion who say they'll never get covid vaccine if they can avoid it

5% of Democrats
22% of independents
43% of Republicans

Well, if you've drunk the kool-aid and think the whole covid thing is a fake, why would you want to bother with a vaccine against it? After all, you can't die of something if you don't believe in it, right?

Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert were the lone two members to vote against a bill that would reauthorize the National Marrow Donor Program, which matches bone marrow donors and cord blood units with patients who have leukemia and other diseases

The bill passed 415-2

I've been noticing that my "conservative" friends have started using the term virtue signaling a lot lately. It seems to have followed the path of political correctness and, I think, social justice warrior, in that it started out as term used by more left-leaning people. One difference is that I don't think virtue signaling ever had a positive connotation, within the political left or otherwise.

Either way, there's a pattern there.

virtue signaling ... political correctness ... social justice warrior

personally, I lump it all under the heading of "don't be a d*ck".

and when people use them as epithets I generally take it as a kind of tell that I am in the presence of somebody who is either kind of a d*ck, or has some kind of chip on their shoulder. with those two things often being indistinguishable.

doesn't necessarily mean the person actually is a d*ck, just means I'm going assume the potential is there until shown otherwise.

all of that's just me, though. I'm sure there are very fine people, etc.

there's a pattern there

they use terms they don't understand as insults, oblivious to the fact that their use of the term is often precisely what the term describes?

And that those terms become the shiny, new things to throw around as zingers, even though other people in other circles have been using them for years. I guess they think Tucker Carlson makes them up or something (now that Limbaugh is dead).

when people use them as epithets I generally take it as a kind of tell that I am in the presence of somebody who is either kind of a d*ck, or has some kind of chip on their shoulder

I take them as a tell that the person has aspirations to be a d*ck. Whether they have quite got the knack of it yet or not.

they use terms they don't understand as insults, oblivious to the fact that their use of the term is often precisely what the term describes?

I am more used to terms getting used as an insult without the user knowing what they mean (just that they are deemed suitable as insults).
An example I have quoted repeatedly is little kids in Germany using "Jew" as an especially grave insult which is understood by both sides as such with neither having the slightest idea what a Jew actually is.

Or like "socialist" here. Although one side is totally clueless, while the other is merely vague (cf Bernie Sanders).

Or like "queer" among little kids when my kids were growing up.

and 'gay', 'fag', and all the rest.

we didn't even know what a 'straight' person was, let alone a 'gay' one. but somehow we knew you didn't want to be called 'gay'!

you have to be very carefully taught. and then, with any luck, you can slowly, deliberately and honestly unteach yourself.

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