Tag Archives: language

All the Ladies

So, in the renewed spirit of gender equality with the recent progresses made by the #metoo movement, I’m trying to figure out the most appropriate thing to say when addressing a group of women.

See, last week I was getting a haircut; the staff on shift was all women. My stylist laid a hot towel on my neck and instantly I caught myself before I blurted out, “Oh, I forgot you guys did that.” Instead, I edited myself to be more true, but what actually came out was “Oh, I forgot you folks did that.” She guffawed at my use of the word “folks” because who the hell actually uses that word non-ironically?

So my question: is it okay to use “gals” instead of “guys”? My problem is that “Guys” is masculine and not gender-neutral. “Gals” is condescending. “Y’all” or “Folks” or “You” is too provincial. Is it okay to use “ladies” or “gals” or “women” when addressing a group of women? Is that a safe thing to do? Or should I just buck up and say what I feel is right anyway and take my lumps?

I know the romance/latin languages use the masculine pronouns and conjugations even in gender-neutral or mixed-gender contexts. Is that still appropriate here in English? I just don’t feel right walking up to a counter and greeting the women there with “Hey guys, what’s up?” You know? What gives?

Silver Tongue

If the Devil himself confronted me and told me I could have one superpower in exchange for my soul, what would that Satanic superpower be? It would be language. Language. Like being able to speak and understand any language known to humanity, to be able to convince and sway. To communicate with any and all. The silver tongue.

When I saw “The Devil’s Advocate“, what impressed upon me most was the Devil’s ability to speak to anybody. The confrontation with the aggressive Chicanos on the subway; he got out of that by speaking fluent Spanish, omnisciently describing the color of the sheets the assailant’s girlfriend was cheating on. In the lounge, his whispering convinced the girl sitting with him to go down under the table and give him service. He was able to speak to anyone and have his way. He understood humanity, and his ability to talk to them in terms they understood gave him power.

Tonight, as I sit watching the horrible English dub of the excellent Swedish production of “The Girl Who Played With Fire” (part 2 of the “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” series), I’m wishing that I could communicate in fluent Swedish, that I could enjoy it in its original tongue without having to read subtitles or listen to any out-of-synch translations with phony-sounding voice actors. I wish I could enjoy any movie, any song, or join any conversation in the speaker’s lingua franca and not miss a beat.

Language is a powerful force. The variation in languages serves to divide us from the Others and serves to unite us against the Outsiders. It is both a community-builder and a world-destroyer. Anybody who can leap from tongue to tongue like a Satanic goat who leaps between rocks on the mountainside, anybody who can transcend any language and cultural barriers that separate us, anybody who can sway and convince and enjoin, that man is a force to be reckoned with.

That is why I want the power of language.

C Is for ANSI, That’s Good Enough for Me

In a bid to expiate myself, I’m currently reading “The C Programming Language, Second Edition.” Written by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Richie, the inventors of the language, this book is the bible when it comes to learning the language. Most modern languages owe their existence to this one. All modern operating systems are primarily written in C. Most client applications are written with C’s direct descendants. Since I work at a high technology company, it would behoove me to bother trying to learn it again. Most of the high-level languages I’ve used in the past 2 decades cannot match the speed, specificity, and hardware-level capability of C. But these aren’t reasons enough for me to learn it.

When I say “expiate”, I mean to make amends for failing a semester of C in college. In a class of 3 students, it was difficult to stand alongside my classmates and lean on them for support. When they started excelling, I fell behind and somewhere around a month after learning about pointers and indirect references, I just gave up. I swore I’d never bother learning the language again. But that’s all changed now. I could do well if I could wrap my head around it and succeed where I failed before.

What bothers me is I still have a lack of support from my fellow programmers. Even the guys who I thought would support my decision to take up the language again are saying things like, “Man, why are you messing around with C?” or “You must really want to punish yourself.” I say they’re missing the point. I’ve had my time with the high-level languages. I know that I can split a sentence into an array of words in three lines in Perl; I know that doing the same in C would require a bit of memory allocation, a handful of variable declarations, and a set of functions to perform each bit of the search and copy operation. But you know what? I don’t care. I’m getting thrilled with seeing how it all actually happens under the covers of all the other languages.

I want to succeed in this. I want to use C to make stuff that runs fast. I want the chance to flip bits in hardware without needing special libraries. I want to have a shallow learning curve if I decide to go into microcontroller programming. Some people put puzzles together; I have this.