Linguistics (was Re: Suzette Haden Elgin)

Kathryn Andersen kat_lists at
Mon Feb 10 05:15:01 EST 2003

On Sun, Feb 09, 2003 at 01:33:15PM -0600, Margaret Ball wrote:
> I met her at a con once...very nice lady, but...let's see, how to put 
> this very politely....I got the impression she wasn't used to 
> encountering other people in the sf/fantasy world who knew anything 
> about linguistics.

Actually, this discussion reminds me of another egregious example, which
combines both the problem of linguistics, and of American-centric-ness.
It was in "Glory Season" by David Brin, an otherwise very interesting
novel, which I didn't actually end up finishing (though oddly enough I
did continue past the egregious bit, but I just sort of couldn't keep

In this novel he sets up a society on another planet, longtime colony, I
think it was 3000 years old or something like that.  As a minor point in
the novel, there is a puzzle-door with pictures on it, which our heroine
has to figure out in order to open the door.  She has a clue, in the
form of a piece of doggerel which was given to her by an old man.  Note
that this door is very ancient, probably built close to the founding of
the colony.  The clue is "Jellicoe Beacon".  She realizes that of
course, this must mean that she has to press the picture of a jar of
preserves, then the picture of the round container, then the picture of
the bee, then the picture of the round container again. "Jelly-can,
Bee-can."   Arrrrgh!  Jelly?  *Jelly?!*  Not only has he made this
puzzle dependent on a *pun* (the kind of thing which is notoriously
untranslatable -- and remember this is 3000 years later, and the
language *must* have changed in that time) but he's made it dependent on
a pun of an *American* word, jelly-which-means-jam, as distinct from the
rest of the English-speaking world, where jelly means that cold wobbly
stuff made by setting gelatine in the refridgerator.


Suffice to say, it really threw me out of the story.

Kathryn Andersen
(daughter of a linguist)
Kirk: No, I'm from Iowa.  I only work in outer space.
	(Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)
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