Friday, May 08, 2009

transatlantic accents: the mystery deepens

I spent a good hour researching this mysterious transatlantic accent that I speculated about in a previous post. The only thing I could find that was even remotely descriptive is this
A specific accent of the English language not native to any place.

It is about halfway between British and American. It is considered an advantage for an actor to be able to speak transatlantic properly (it is not just a random mix of British and American but a very specific accent having its own exact rules).

It is often considered hard to master because if not done absolutely right it sounds completely fake and ridiculous. When done right, it sounds very sophisticated.

The transatlantic accent is generally used for characters that cannot speak with any real English accent, for example aliens in science fiction, or non-English characters in historical fiction. Also used by God to express the idea that God does not belong to any particular place or culture but transcends them all.

The transatlantic accent is often recommended to immigrants from non-English speaking countries. This is because people are used to this accent from movies, so, ironically, it does not sound foreign when spoken by immigrants.
I also found a lot of references to "transatlantic accent" where the writer may or may not have known what they were talking about. A lot of people seem to think that a transatlantic accent is just what someone from England sounds like when he's trying to suppress his English accent. There are also references to "fake" transatlantic accents, which makes no sense if the accent is artificial.

What I was hoping to find was some fun history such as that it was invented by an early 20th-century linguist under contract from the first radio network or that it was taught at academies for young ladies of a certain social class or some such. But so far, nothing interesting has come up.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

on using fear as a political tool

UPDATE: It occurs to me that the following might be misunderstood as an argument that Obama is using fear as a political tool. That was not my intention. I was just pointing out that if anyone claims to have been convinced by objective evidence that Bush was using fear as a political tool then they should be equally convinced that Obama is doing so.

Does anyone else remember how Bush was repeatedly accused of using fear as a political weapon? Does anyone wonder what the usual suspects on the Left would have said if someone in the Bush administration had flown a 747 around the New York skyline, causing people to evacuate buildings in a panic? And if the Bush Whitehouse claimed that the flights were for publicity photos of the plane, but then refused to give anyone the pictures, don't you think some of these "true patriots" on the left would have demonstrated their patriotism-by-dissent and claimed that there never were any photos?

Of course, none of this applies to Obama, right? Because Obama wants to get out of the war, so he doesn't have any reason to create fear of another terrorist attack. Except that Obama is having trouble with his promise to close Gitmo. And he wants to be tough guy in Pakistan, and he's been dragging his feet on getting the troops out of Iraq. So maybe he does have some reason to want people to be more concerned with dying a flaming death in blazing jet fuel than in watching whether he keeps his anti-war campaign promises.

Furthermore, it is a truism on the left that being in a winning war makes the president more popular and helps to distract from presidential mistakes. The belief in that principle is why the Left was so furious about the Iraq war --they feared it as something that would pull the country together under a Republican president-- and that is why they worked so hard to belittle the president and tear the country apart. Better a divided country than one united under a Republican. (I'll also note that this theory of the political utility of war helps to explain Clinton's otherwise inexplicable little wars and military actions). And if Obama buys into this theory of how wars make Presidents more popular, it has to be tempting for him to keep a little war in his back pocket to bring out if his popularity ever goes down.

OK, maybe you don't buy all of that. But what about Obama using fear of the Swine Flu to frighten people into thinking that they need the government to take care of them medically? He wouldn't do that, right? Because only the Republicans would do something that terrible.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


This is really fascinating, a woman showing off a bunch of different accents (link from Head Noises). The most interesting one is the last. From what she says, I assume it is an artificial accent developed for broadcast in the early days of radio. I recognize the accent from old movies.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

how I found my new search engine

Some time ago, I was searching on Google with something like the following:
air mattress -camping
What this is supposed to do is show me a list of sites containing the words "air" and "mattress" but only if they do not contain the word "camping". What I was finding is that Google was inserting into the middle of each page of results a small easy-to-miss header saying
results for: air mattress +camping
and then showing three sites that contained pages that I specifically told Google that I did not want to see. I only noticed this after going to a few sites and finding information on camping air mattress and wondering what was wrong. Then I had to start carefully parsing the search results to filter out sites as I was browsing. After doing several searches along these lines and finding this new marketing gimmick of Google's too annoying to tolerate, I spent about ten minutes trying to figure out how to tell the search engine "No, I really, really don't want to see any page with the word 'camping' in it". Apparently there was no way to do that so I used Google to search for another search engine without this annoying practice.

I'm glad this happened because I discovered my new search site: Clusty. It has a simple no-frills interface just like Google, and after using it for a couple of months I can say that it gives results that are just as good as Google.

Apparently Google has dropped this new marketing practice, as I tried a couple of queries and didn't see the promotional sites mixed in with the search any more, so I suspect that I'm not the only person who had this reaction. But, I'm not going back to Google. Since I've become disenchanted with Google, I'm very happy that I was forced to find Clusty. Now if only something would force me to move to new blog and email sites.