Wilkommen, bienvenue... aloha?
New topic because I don't wanna talk about politics no more; ...
I am certainly not the first to remark upon this, but I was thinking yesterday about the names we choose to give our products in the information superhighway. Or for that matter, technology in general.

Microsoft has tended to be pretty good about this, in the sense that their names have all the creative sexiness of a filing cabinet. "Windows" is an operating system with... windows and includes "Paint" and "Notepad". "Office" contains productivity tools you might use in an office, including such tools as "Publisher" to create documents you might publish and "Word" to... make things with... words. "Excel" would stand out as the creative one of the bunch until you realise it's just a reference to using things that have cells in them.

Nobody is going to get confused by what "Microsoft Flight Simulator" might do.

Apple is pretty good too. "Macintosh" is a kind of apple. Hence, Mac, or MacBook to denote a Mac that is a notebook. Or PowerBook. The iPhone is a phone. The iPod is a... erf. What is a pod, actually, now that I think about it? And what does it have to do with music? Bueller? (Well at least it's not a "Zune". What the fuck is a Zune?) Still. "GarageBand". "Time Machine". You get the picture.

It's the new Internet startups that are screwing us over. This comes from the early-ish days of the Internet (say, the mid to late 90s), when the Internet was seen as... uh, well, as Africa, to be honest. A vast, unexplored dark continent. This is why you might want to truck with an Internet Explorer, or possibly a Netscape Navigator. Or maybe you just want to take a Safari? (There is "Lynx," which sounds cool and has a drawing of a cat as an icon, but it's not actually about cats, you just use it to navigate, ah... links)

To be honest, I thought we'd moved past this. We have mostly moved beyond an era of Safaris and Exploring, I think. This has come at the same time as a rise in alternative browsers like Opera (a browser designed for people who can whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore and will never have a girlfriend, ever) or Firefox (for people who touch themselves to erotic depictions of Krystal from Starfox or possibly Richard Stallman) or Chrome for... people who... (note to editor: will finish when I can think of someone who would use Chrome).

But no, it's clear that the Internet is still an exotic territory, and an exotic territory necessitates product names that conjure up exoticness. The overwhelming language of choice is of course kiswahili, because Africa is mysterious and mystical and confusing and the people there probably still dance around chanting while shaking bone rattles. White people attach a profound sense of authenticity to the African continent ("poverty" tends to be strongly linked to "authenticity" when the white people in question are not living it), which also explains the recent (last decade or so) rise to prominence of "African" art.

Thus we have Joomla, which I guess is supposed to mean "total". We have also Tafiti, which means "doing research". We have Kijiji, which in a wonderous display of whiteness means "village," because Africans live in villages where they are happy and trade things with each other while smiling and generally amusing the white man with their quaintness. And when Firaxis needed to symbolise the birth of humanity for Civilization IV (that is, the pre-civilization part) they of course chose kiswahili to do it, because if there's anything that says "back to our roots" it's "Arabic-influenced language spoken by fewer than ten million people and evolved less than fifteen hundred years ago".

You might be inclined to say that I'm reading too much into things, although exoticising and otherising narratives are a common theme in postmodern, postcolonial studies and I would hardly be the first to spotlight them. All the same, it's got to be a little sketchy when your modern, AU-approved common language is synonymous with "tribal". Far better to be the Hawai'ians, whose proud, if bloodthirsty, imperial roots have been boiled down into flower garlands, Wiki and Mahalo. Charming, simple, bright, and inoffensive. Just as we like our ethnic others to be.

And let's be honest with ourselves, here. "Kijiji" is meant to evoke images of simple, bartering Africans, a little tribal community of a dozen huts where people carry water in jugs on their heads and commute to work via water buffalo. Similarly "Tafiti" is probably not meant to call to mind a studious young man bent over a book in a library in Dar es Salaam. It is by this token that you also know that when people talk about "African art" they are not talking about Billy Mandindi or Khaled Hafez. They are talking about tribal masks. So it goes.

Of course, there's a bright side. Everyone has (or knows someone who had a friend who has) made a mistake in a foreign language (mine: confusing "seul" and "soul" to tell someone that after a friend had bailed on my afternoon plans I had spent the previous day "drunk off my ass" when I meant to say "all alone" (I was fourteen at the time, so while this statement might make sense today it did not then)). So I'm sure it is the case (and would in fact quite love it to be so if it turns out to be) that, you know, "joomlo" means "total," but "joomla" means "your brother consumed my man-steak with butter last night".

Some of this comes from the fondness white people have for languages other than their own (that is, generally, non-English), in that such words lend a certain degree of legitimacy. For instance:

Japanese and Chinese: these are not actually spoken by anyone who is not a teenaged girl (Japanese as a language consists of more than just "hai", "kawaiiiiiii" and "Pocky") but are responsible for the curious language of tattoos known to linguists as "squiggle-gana".

Italian is mostly useful for talking about music and food, and in the latter category it is also mostly useful for talking about Italian food, which while itself a broad classification does not do much for you if you are talking about, say, sushi. Coffee is also a suitable territory for Italian, though one cautions that unlike, say, French, you do not get bonus points for pronouncing the words in an Italian accent. Studying Italian is also not acceptable in school unless you are planning on travelling Europe in a transparent attempt to get laid.

French and Latin: these are the ideal languages of the pretentious and/or academic. They are generally used to substitute for English words that are less authentic. I said "common language" above but lingua franca has that certain je ne sais quoi, isn't it so? Ah, but c'est la vie. If you listen to NPR regularly, you sprinkle your vocabulary with French phrases and, depending on how many hours a day you spend listening to it, you probably throw in the accent as well. But! It's

German that has the real pretentious kick, although generally only if you fancy yourself some kind of artiste (nb use of French--and Latin in this parenthetical for a triple word score!). The German language's use for white people now lies primarily in talking about culture, which is slightly weird when you consider that Germany's contribution to culture in the 20th century consists largely of 1) bauhaus and 2) burning books. And possibly 3) Kraftwerk.

Mind, I'm not talking about talking about the "blitzkrieg" or "hamburgers," because really what else would you use? I mean describing the Gesamtkunstwerk of a Künstlerroman that accurately reflects the Weltanschauung associated with the Volksgemeinschaft. People will tell you that they use German words because they accurately sum up what English alone cannot, but this is for the most part silly. A few examples:

What you say What it means in German
Lumpenproletariat "Riff-raff" (in America: "White trash" or "immigrants")
Schadenfreude"Being an asshole"
Realpolitik "You need to be an asshole to get ahead."
Götterdämmerung"I pretend to enjoy Richard Wagner"
Bildungsroman"The Catcher in the Rye"
Vergangenheitsbewältigung"Awful sorry we crisped all those Jews."

You see it's actually quite simple. And you didn't even need to take an upper-division class in critiquing art to learn it!

The more you know!

19.09.2008 - 3h35
Comrade Alex
19.09.2008 - 3h40
19.09.2008 - 4h43
Comrade Alex
19.09.2008 - 4h59

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