Tag Archives: The Huffington Post

Kafka Makes His Canadian Court Debut

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It really is the small things in life that bring me a tremendous amount of pleasure. One of these things is when anything literary or linguistic makes its way into a court of law, which it did recently in New Brunswick, that scandalous little province always punching above its weight class.

In an article titled “Just what does ‘Kafkaesque’ mean? A New Brunswick judge weighs in,” Canadian Press journalist Rob Roberts reported from Fredericton about Paul Lynch, a local lab janitor, who was nailed for his 7th DUI-related offense in 2015. According to Roberts, “Because of his prior convictions, he [Lynch] was immediately remanded pending sentencing, and later sentenced to six months in jail.”

Here’s the problem: Nobody came to his hearing and he was never able to make a phone call, so when he didn’t show up for work the next day – or the 180 days after that – his employer fired him.

Seem logical and by the book? Well, not if you have a cursory understanding of Franz Kafka. Per the article, “In a new ruling, Justice Hugh McLellan defines Kafkaesque as the struggle ‘against rules and forces that cannot be understood.'”

What the Franz?

“Labour adjudicator John McEvoy ordered the health authority to give him his job back, in a decision that declared ‘no one . . . should face the Kafka-like situation faced by Lynch in respect of his inability to contact his employer.'”

While a little more out there than the “Oxford commagate” debacle in a Maine court case earlier this year, it’s interesting to note that Justice McLellan even invokes the legendary Prague, Bohemia, Austro-Hungarian (now Czech Republic) writer’s name in the first place, as notable publications like The New York Times and The Atlantic have published pieces in the recent past asking whether “Kakaesque” is “‘a word so overused it has lost all meaning?'”

Perhaps that’s why younger readers now say Murakamiesque? Should you need any clarification of what this adjective means, definitely pick up The Elephant Vanishes, though A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle would suffice as well.

Literature aside, how can a Canadian citizen be arrested, convicted and then essentially forgotten about – and all without a single phone call?

I suppose you could ask The Globe and Mail (“Here’s how to fix a broken system“),  The National Post (“No faith in our justice system“), The Huff Post (“Canada Doesn’t Need To Fix Its Justice System. It Needs a New One“), or The Georgia Straight (“The Canadian justice system is so broken it’s criminal“).

Then again, if you wanted a slightly more objective POV, you could refer to last year’s report from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, which graded provinces and territories in five categories: public safety, victims support, efficiency, fairness and access to justice, and costs and resources. Benjamin Perrin, a UBC professor of law, was one of the report’s authors.

How did Canada’s most populous province fair in the report card assessment? We suck, bottom third of the provinces, and an overall rating of a C+. Why, you ask? According to one CBC report by Alison Crawford, “Perrin points to how police can directly lay charges in Ontario.” That’s right. They don’t need the OK from the Crown beforehand (like in Quebec), nor do they even need the consent of an alleged victim.

As a result, says Mr. Perrin, “[T]here’s an awful lot of people being dragged through the Ontario criminal justice system who are ultimately having their charges stayed, withdrawn or acquitted. That is costing millions of dollars to the province but it’s also plugging up the system so that really important cases don’t make it through..”

That fact is scary enough, but what’s even more frightening is that Canada ranked 12th among 113 countries surveyed in 2016, according to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, “the world’s leading source for original, independent data on the rule of law.”

So, Mr. Lynch, if you think you had a Kafka-/Murakamiesque experience going through the justice system here in Canada, imagine what it would have been like in bottom-of-the-heap No. 113, Venezuela, 18 spots below Sierra-freaking-Leone and two spots down from Af-oh-my-ghanistan.


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The Importance of a Book’s Title

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Remember that awesome novel Trimalchio in West Egg? Or how about that shameful autobiography called Four and a Half Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice (which would have been the most ironic title ever considering its author)? Surely you remember the greatest dystopian work of fiction, The Last Man in Europe.

No? Well, you’re not alone.

The Huffington Post looked back at some classic novels and what they were almost called had someone not stepped in at the eleventh hour and said, “Umm…yeah…maybe. Then again, maybe not?”

Check out the full list from the article entitled “Awful Titles Famous Authors Almost Gave Their Novels.”

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English Pronunciation and the Shibboleth

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The shibboleth is a defining trait of the English language. Defined as “a peculiarity of pronunciation, behavior, mode of dress, etc., that distinguishes a particular class or set of persons,” the word is derived from Hebrew, circa the 14th century, and meant, literally, “ear of grain.” The word shibboleth was used in the Old Testament by the Gileadites as a test word for the Ephraimites, who could not pronounce the sound sh.

Katherine Brooks over at The Huffington Post has penned an interesting piece on a book by Ross and Kathryn Petras called You’re Saying It Wrong, a guide to 150 words that native English speakers pronounce incorrectly on a regular basis.

Examples include acai, chiaroscuro and mischievous.

Back in the day when I was teaching English to Koreans, students would routinely tell me how difficult it was to learn English, to which I would reply, “Seriously? SERIOUSLY? You conjugate verbs AND adjectives in Korean; as opposed to the one conjugation per tense in English, you have more than 20 in Korean; you often drop the subject of a sentence because, of course, it’s “understood”; you actually attach suffixes to the words in your sentences with subject/topic, object and preposition markers, which requires an intimate knowledge of grammar; you have two counting systems (one pure Korean, one Chinese-derived); you mark animate/inanimate counting items with specific suffixes; you distinguish between hoching (the person you’re talking to) and jiching (the person you’re talking about); being vague with your sentences is en vogue; and on and on and on.

The one thing I will say is that while Korean is relatively easy to pronounce for English speakers because of Hangeul’s “scientific” laws (the written portion of the Korean language, Hangeul, is actually the only extant language that was invented), English is an 18-car pile-up that’s been run over by a flaming trainwreck when it comes to pronunciation. Even as a native English speaker who has taught the language and studies linguistics for shigs and gittles, I don’t know how to pronounce certain words correctly.

For all the linguistic masochists out there like me who want to learn more about You’re Saying It Wrong, click here.

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