Posted in book review

‘Word On The Street: Debunking The Myth Of A Pure Standard English’, by John McWhorter – book essay

Word On The Street: Debunking The Myth Of A Pure Standard EnglishWord On The Street: Debunking The Myth Of A Pure Standard English by John McWhorter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Sometimes, the courage to express my thoughts in English as a second language meets with insidious challenges between the grammarian Scylla and fault-finding Charybdis, lurking in the safety of anonymity on social media to stalk the prey with perverted joy. So, it is only natural for me to find encouragement from the books reassuring me that the mastery of language does not equate with intelligence. So, it is no wonder that I have the pleasure of reading  Word on the Street, an invigorating narrative told in scholastic zeal and impressive erudition flavored with street-smart audacity. McWhorter, who belongs to the constellation of brilliant linguists, such as Samuel Johnson and Steven Pinker, talks about language in terms of social and cultural contexts, making the academic subject a hot topic of a Charlie Rose talk show.

McWhorter takes his view against language relativism that language shapes thoughts. The possession of words does not determine the thought process to contextualize the mentalese. Therefore, slang, idioms, and parlance outside the elite group of society and the educated middle class are not denigrated as improper English. In this sense, Pidgeon English, the quaintly charming admixture of scattered English words and a speaker’s native language, is not a corrupt version of pristine English but a hybrid of languages born out of the ingenuity of the human mind and changeability of language in nature. Isn’t English a living proof of the incredible amalgamation of languages still undergoing evolution? Who would have thought that English of the underclass would shine as a lingua franca?

What strikes me most about the book, which concurs to his fellow linguist Pinker’s point of view on language not as a touchstone for one’s cognitive ability, is that solecism in spoken and written language does not reflect the user’s less desirable trait of academic ineptitude. To put it more bluntly, just because your grammar is besotted with errors doesn’t mean you don’t know what you are saying, or forthright, you are less intelligent. Take Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance polymath, who had no fewer than six grammar books on Latin and Greek to grasp the syntax of the classical dead languages he was so hopeless to learn thanks to his lack of formal education. In fact, da Vinci’s writings are ridden with misspellings and amorphous sentence fragments, just as Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, and Emily Bronte showed in their manuscripts. So, did their imperfect language skills overrule their force of imagination and contextualizing it in words? Does this betray that language shapes thought? 

McWhorter can transcend the demarcation of race in the communication of this extensive knowledge about the subject drawn from a wealth of learning and scholastic industry with urban wit and debonair guy attitude to his readers, academic or general. His intelligence freely crosses over time gaps, chasms between class divide across continents and oceans with a universal theme of words that we, as human creatures, have spoken thus far. And he tells it using full of scintillating metaphors, examples, and anecdotes, which helps the reader comprehend otherwise monotonously academic subject without pressure and enjoyably. Samuel Johnson said that the possession of knowledge is to share it, and the possessor of the knowledge shines when he applies the knowledge to the crowd of life. Well, Word on the Street shows it all.






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Posted in Miscellany

A perfect cat owner?: confession of a novice

I remember watching the cat guru Jackson Galaxy’s post on YouTube about a prison where a group of inmates is assigned each cat for mental and a behavioral correctional program. The inmates seemed calm and content just as their foster feline friends reflected and talked of the amazing effects on their hearts hardened by the world never kind to them. The images of a condemned man in a cell and a homeless cat from a shelter became a beautiful impressionist painting with an air of serenity wrapped up in the soft sweet twilight colored by the warm hues of pleasantness that filled the canvass and stayed in the heart of the beholder – forever. The loneliness cut in halves transformed into togetherness, and there was nothing else but the mutual need for love and care. With the picturesque imagery engraved in my heart’s shrine, I cannot help but question the generic prerequisites for being an ideal cat owner indoctrinated by those professing to know things about pets. The doctrines of a perfect cat owner are as follows: you have to live in a space wide enough for her to exercise her natural hunting instinct, to have another cat to prevent anxiety, aggression, and loneliness, and most of all, to be a near-perfect human full of love and understanding blessed with material means to satisfy the need of a cat to the extent possible. The protocols remind me of eugenics elements by which only the best males and females can produce offspring desirable for humankind. Only the superhuman race can fall in love, beget children, and raise them to be perfect in physical and mental attributes to continue the Superhumanity. On the same token, being an ideal cat owner is to be an ideal person who deserves love from nature because of his ideally perfect being—quite the Nietzschean idea of Superhumanity. 

An ideal cat owner’s doctrines align against the condemned man’s images and the homeless cat in a cell. Then I also look at my 4-month old tabby cat Toro, whom I adopted from a shelter three months ago. Is he unhappy with me in this tiny apartment room? Is it because of boredom and separation anxiety doubled with a significant change of environment from pastoral life to city life that has driven him to a sudden pulsing and biting my hands and feet? Does he hate me because I leave him at home all day long with a mother who hates him when I go to work? Does he want to leave me and be adopted to a loving, perfect new owner because of my imperfection? Am I less qualified than the inmate to have a cat altogether? The thoughts smothered under the ineffective veil of forced positivism have reached the point where they can no more bear the suffocation and begun to erupt the lavas in the fiery magnitude.


As a first-time pet owner, I like to think that it is not a coincidence but Providence that Toro has come to my life because he was the only kitten who came to me and my brother bunting his little flurry head against our hands through the cold metals of the cage in the shelter. Toro and I are much alike in many aspects: leisured time in seclusion, uncompromising individuality, insatiable curiosity, innate sensitivity, and unfailing feistiness. We also instinctively know each other’s mood because when I am dejected, Toro studies my facial movements and comes nearer to me with those adorable eyes filled with liquid warmth. Then I look at the cute little Toro before me and think that genuine love and care transcends the high walls of a grim prison and eclipses the roof of a perfect happy house. There is a home sweet home for me and Toro in my tiny apartment.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

Great feast of fellowship, what a thing it is!

Education is quintessentially utilitarian. it is the soul of a society that grows into a collective human civilization in which individuals become cosmopolitans of the global village. William Butler Yeats saw education as “not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” In fact, education is the beginning of enlightenment, the road to Alpine Path to reach the peaks of your dreams and goals in triumph, no matter how rigid and challenging it may be. It is, therefore, a human right belonging to all ranks and titles, and it is this very reason that I was very glad to come upon this wonderful website “Working Class Academics Conference” on Twitter.

The conference is a congress of academics with honorable intentions to form a supporting network of collegiality that encourages their increasing presence and voices in academia where normally is dominated by scholars and academics of the affluent middle-class and privileged high class. It purposes to signify, acknowledge, and salute the achievements of working-class people embarking on an odyssey of their own in search of will to meaning in life via education despite biological, social, and cultural inhibitions against the elitist currents of Higher and Education and the University often unfriendly toward their peers of another class. It is Parliament of Kindred Spirits and Faeries that guide their fellow academics of similar socio-economic backgrounds to climb to their due respect and well-deserved recognition from the mainstream academia. 

In fact, there have been many notable figures of the working class who rose above social and biological planes that would not dispirit their noble, unyielding spirits flying high over the mountains of existential difficulties. Take Charles Dickens. Although Dickens’s family was originally of the middle class, his debt-ridden lawyer father took his family to a debtor’s jail and even sent very young Dickens to a factory for livelihood, which practically makes Dickens and his family working class. However, his talent for words and literary aspirations overcame the vicissitudes of hardscrabble life and made him arrive as one of the greatest writers in English Literature. Then there is also Ben Jonson, a leading neo-classist in the Elizabethan era who was abruptly driven out of his much-beloved the College of St. Peter at Westminster by his bricklayer stepfather at his youth to be set to work at bricklaying for living. And yet, Jonson tried to preserve a sense of purpose and a tenacious grasp on social recognition by relentlessly pursuing his literary ambition to be justifiably on par with his contemporary less-talented stiff upper lipped university-educated dramatists, poets, and scholars. Speaking of which,the immortal Elizabethan playwright and poet William Shakespeare also worked as an actor as well, ruffling the feathers of his expensively educated high class contemporaries and to our contemporaries to this date.

In conclusion, the conference is a great feast of celebrating the fellowship of working-class scholars whose existence in academia is often regarded as slighted lesser equals who dare to hobnob with their academic peers of privileged class on equal terms. These fellows of solidarity do not brandish placards championing a campaign against expensively privately educated scholars or academics in a frenzy of excitement fulled by their class-related jealousy. On the contrary, the conference is a celebration of their achievements, a festivity of who they are, a festivity of where they come from. And I want to praise them for the following virtues: pleasant without affectation, welcoming without exclusion, audacious without impudence, learned without pedantry, and brilliant without sententious bromides.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

Lion’s heart wrapt in Sari – on Jayaben Desai

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The Unlikely Fighter: Jayaben Desai

It was one sweltering summer day of 1976 when 43-year old Jayaben Desai finally culminated over the demeaning mistreatment and delivered her tirade against her manager of the Grunswick Film Processing Laboratories in London and stormed out of his glass office that sealed her outcry of frustration and indignation that had been smothered under the daily duties of existential needs for livelihood for years. So when her manager told her to work overtime at the very last minute as usual, again and again, Desai couldn’t take it any longer. For Desai’s personal life and her right to freedom after work meant nothing to the management whose discriminating attitudes toward their southwestern Asian immigrant workers were beyond pale. No More Docile Asian Woman who, unlike her English counterparts, would acquiesce to her despotic manager’s orders. This time Desai transformed herself into a lioness unafraid of the goading. This time was hers, and hers and her fellow immigrant workers. 

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A Lion’s Heart wrapt in sari

Upon reading the article “We are the lions, Mr. Manager” in my subscribed BBC history magazine, which was about the famous Grunswick Strike in 1977 led by then-unknown former Grunswick employee, Jayaben Desai, I could not help but take pen to paper for the following reasons: (1) it was about the first remarkable calling for a solidarity for the rights of workers on the periphery of social recognition;(2) it was the first and foremost Asian women’s strike against the industrial injustice backed up by the establishments, including that which they claimed to be for the people and by the people; and (3) it manifested the deep-seated general British public’s sentiment towards their Asian immigrant neighbors who were regarded as socially and culturally inferior to theirs based on race and culture. 

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Despite Desai and her collaborators, mobilized support from politicians and trade unions was conspicuous by its absence.

What really made me incendiary about the one woman’s protest against the exploitation of the race and gender for dignity and justice was the absence of massive support from her fellow English workers. She was reminiscent of a lone frontier woman in a duel against her heartless landowner with hoots and holler from his ilk. Although supports from people with goodwill and conscience were impossible to ignore, a majority of established social organizations did not lend helping hands to Ms. Desai and her fellow hardscrabble workers sending a distressed SOS call to their English peers. Where were their so-called English contemporary counterparts who were also economically disadvantaged and socially oppressed? Was the outcry of their fellow immigrant workers only a barbarous shouting trying to threaten their jobs? 

Although Ms. Desai’s heroic legacy has left an indelible footprint in the world’s social history encompassing racialized minority workers on social radar, labor disputes concerning the exploitation of race and gender are still rampant. What’s more, it still happens in our digitalized social media-governed age all over the world, including here in the States. How to stop or ameliorate the social ill shouldn’t be treated as a stylish, popular subject to gain constituents for political party ideology. Until then, the exploited will remain invisible in the dark and dank corners of the society willfully ignored and utterly abandoned.   

Posted in book review

‘The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British Aristocracy’, by Anne de Courcy – review

The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British AristocracyThe Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married Into the British Aristocracy by Anne de Courcy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

They were the Beautiful Buccaneers dressed in fine dresses a la Parisian mode, expensively educated in Europe, and exclusively cultivated in the upper echelon of the Classless Class Society. They were American women seeking English aristocratic men who could promise them with prestige of class distinction with a complementary endowment of stately country houses, royal banquets, and a general carte blanche to basically all social occasions, events, and establishments exclusive to a select few. Although it wasn’t exactly akin to the plebeian idea of “Mail-in Bride,” the wealthy American women were vying for the lordly attention of the English bachelors of peerage at the ballrooms of high social clubs. These celebratory high society American women are unveiled in Anne De Courcy’s telling episodic vignettes of The Husband Hunters.

At first, De Courcy’s portrayal of these American Cinderellas is deemed to be cast in rather favorable light despite their manifest materialistic intent on marrying peerage not for love but for necessity. De Courcy eulogizes the idea of “American Beauty” whose circumstances conspired to make her feel that she was mistress of her fate and who always got what she wanted, the remarkable American character that looked so irresistibly attractive and desirable in the eyes of high-class English men. In addition, American women were said to always adonize themselves with fashionably beautiful dresses with a natural air of confidence blurring the boundary of arrogance, which was also oddly very alluring about them. De Courcy is unfailingly sympathetic toward these young beautiful American social arriveste, for theses women fell by the wayside of the highest circle of social class by their birth and ranks, such as whose daughters they were, despite the constitutional credo of freedom to all without hereditary succession of peerage and the entitlement of prestige equal to the inherited ranks. In De Courcy’s humane perspective, these American Cinderellas were in one way or another victims of social discrimination per se of their time.

The book has also nice diversions in contextualizing the cultural and social ambiance of the time, including the introduction of one Charles Frederick Worth, the progenitor of modern-day fashion house designer and trailblazer of hauteur-coutre. Working as a ship assistant at a London tailor shop until the age of 12, Worth went to Paris alone and set up his design studio with exquisite choice of fabrics and gorgeous design that soon caught the eye of Empress Eugene, a tall, slender, beautiful woman who was a great model for Worth’s fabulous dresses, and thus became the most sought-after designer in the Western Hemisphere. Of course, the American young women of the moneyed class were intent on buying the dresses made by Worth in Paris to adorn themselves at social balls to woo their desirable aristocratic suitors from England. For these women firmly believed if they were not worth the wooing, they surely were not worth the winning in consideration of Shakespeare’s fierce observation of beauty as a standard of woman’s merit to escalate social status by marriage: “She’s beautiful, and therefore to be wooed. She’s a woman, therefore to be won.”

The gem of this book is its cleverly nuanced subject matter underlying the hypocrisy of American credo of Independence, Equality, and Freedom, vis-a-vis European, especially their former colonial English, class snobbishness. inherited entitlement of landed peerage, against which Americans claimed to fight and guarded. The American moneyed class needed titles to level themselves with dignitaries to display their flowing hard cash. What it used to be inter-class marriage became intra-class marriage by uniting the well-heeled bourgeoisie with blue-blooded aristocrats. But what good of it if such without end businesslike marriage was loveless, heartless, and soulless? The fear of falling into unwanted spinsterhood might have been deemed miserable, but the repining at the prospect of being an old maid shouldn’t be the main force of being wed at leisure. For marriage is indeed a matter of more worth than to be dealt in by attorneyship as the Bard keenly observed. The Husband Hunters to me is more of a social context of American moneyed class of the time and their economic power that could acquire centuries-old ranks and titles. Such a marriage was regarded as a biblical bond of objectives (money) and prestige (title) in the minds of the American rich families of the time when it was believed that women’s fortune depended upon strength of men. In light of the above, this book is provocatively revealing and cleverly ironic to learn of these American Princesses.

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