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Things French People Like: Saying Hello

31 Jan

Imagine that you enter a small shop you’ve never been to before. The cashier hears you come in, but is visibly busy attending to one thing or another. Do you:

A) Wait a bit for the cashier to finish, make eye contact with you and exchange greetings
B) Wait a short time and then politely say “Hello” to get the cashier’s attention
C) Immediately and loudly say “Hello!” as soon as you walk through the door

As an American, my intuitive response is A), unless I’m convinced the cashier is simply ignoring me, in which case I might opt for B). I think it is generally considered good manners in America to wait a bit and let the worker finish their task before interrupting them. However, I have found that waiting to make eye contact with the cashier before saying hello is simply not the norm in French culture; in fact, it can be considered quite rude.

The French almost always choose option C). According to the mysterious unwritten but universally accepted 876,324 rules of French propriety (rule #127,533 I think), it is customary to say “Bonjour” as soon as you enter a shop. Sometimes, “bonjour” doesn’t even cut it — rule #127,533 subsection 5b strongly advises that you add “madame” or “monsieur” to the end of your greeting, just in case there was any ambiguity about the sex of your interlocutor (although I have, on occasion, witnessed some embarrassing mix-ups).

When I first arrived in France, the following would happen on some occasions: I enter a shop. The cashier knows I’m there, but is hunched over the register, working diligently on something (rolling either a croissant or a cigarette, I’m not sure). I wait for the cashier to look up at me and say hello. I wait a little longer. Finally, the cashier lifts her head and, with a suspciously passive-agressive tone of exasperation, says, “Bonjour, monsieur.”

It’s easy to see how this kind of behaviour might seem rude to an American. But now I understand the cashier’s point of view. “Okay, this guy just walked into my store. Why hasn’t he said hello yet? What’s he waiting for? God, how rude. “Hello, sir.””

Granted, this particular situation doesn’t happen that often. Usually if the shopkeeper isn’t busy, she will say “bonjour, monsieur” as soon as you walk through the door.

Bonjour is important. And it’s not just for shopkeepers. One time while waiting in line at the small post office in my neighbourhood, a man walked in and collectively greeted the eight or so strangers in line with “Mesdames, messieurs, bonjour.” This would be like a man in America walking into a post office and saying “Ladies and gentlemen, good day.” Usually this kind of person is unshaven, smells like urine, and hears voices.

But “ladies and gentlemen, good day,” is a standard salutation in France.

Artist's rendering of an average Frenchman

The situation becomes more complex when you replace the shop or the post office with your place of work. I don’t know most of the teachers who work at my schools, mostly just the English teachers. But whenever a teacher walks into the teachers’ lounge, they are compelled by the laws of Frenchdom to say hello to everyone. My natural behaviour, of course, is to walk into the room, head towards my seat, and say hello to anyone I make eye contact with along the way, or to anyone I know personally. I feel awkward saying hello to everyone as soon as I walk through the door, but usually not doing so earns me a multitude of curious stares.

Then there’s the bise. Oh God, the bise. That’s the kisses you give people on the cheek to greet them. There are so many variables to take account of before you go in for the kiss. How do I know when to kiss someone? How many kisses do I give? Do I start with the right cheek or the left cheek? Do I have to kiss men too? There is no easy answer to any of these questions, as the answers all vary by region. These are covered by French code rules #701,668 to #702,109 and the corresponding geographic amendments.

In my region of France, you kiss friends (male and female) and newfound acquaintances (usually introduced to you by a friend) if they are a woman or a child (I’m not sure what the exact age cut-off is; I’ll check the manual again). Unless you’re a woman, in which case you pretty much have to kiss everyone.

The standard number of kisses in this area is 2. I think you’re supposed to start with the right cheek but so many people have gone for my left cheek first, resulting in some narrow escapes from catastrophic labial contact.

I have, on occasion, extended my hand to girls that were introduced to me by a mutual acquaintance. They were quite perplexed and a bit putt off by the idea that I was shaking their hand, almost as if I was treating them like they were men. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.

But wait. Wait! What if it’s past 5 PM? Ohhh, sheeeeeeiiiit. You just opened up a whole nother can of worms.

If you don’t speak French, I assure you that that was hilarious.

Best Film of 2010: Sausage?

8 Jan

Earlier this week with one of my middle school English classes, I asked the students to reflect on the year 2010. They apparently remembered very little in the way of world events, aside from a volcano somewhere (Ireland?) and Rhianna’s concert in Marseille, so I decided to steer them towards a more accessible subject. “What films do you remember from 2010?” I asked them.

One of the quieter girls raised her hand quite excitedly.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Saucisse !” she answered, smiling.

Saucisse is French for “sausage.” At first I thought this might have been some French kids’ movie that I’d never heard of (or simply a mean joke on the English assistant), but the rest of the students in the class were just as clueless as I was. “Saucisse?!” several of them asked incredulously, while the rest just burst out with laughter.

But the girl was confident in her answer. “Mais oui !” She repeated the title, this time more slowly and with a distinct pause between the two syllables: [so sis].

The class had a collective a-ha moment (and more laughter) as we realised she was talking about Saw VI (using the French pronunciation of six, [sis]).

Apparently the similarity between the film title and the French word for “sausage” hasn’t gone unnoticed by the general public. A quick Google search reveals a number of French fanmade posters for Saw VI exploiting the pun, e.g.:

I'm pretty sure there's some meat-grinding in the film anyway

Of course, the English pronunciation of “saw” involves a lower / more open vowel than the French [o], namely [ɔ]. French actually has the same vowel (or at least a phonetically similar one). Compare the following two French words:

sot [so] – “silly” (masculine)
sotte [sɔt] – “silly” (feminine)

The question, then, is: why do the French approximate the English [ɔ] vowel (as in “saw”) with a more closed [o] (as in “so”), when the French [ɔ] is phonetically more similar?

One of my linguistic idols, John Wells, addressed this question last year on his blog, referencing a conference paper by Nicolas Ballier. He refers specifically to the French habit of rendering “law” as [lo] (sounds more like “low”). The explanation:

The French vowels o and ɔ, too, are in complementary or near-complementary distribution, with the higher o again being preferred in open syllables and the lower ɔ in closed syllables. Although English law would sound much better with French ɔ than with French o, … nevertheless the syllable structure inhibits its use.

In other words, the French [ɔ] almost always occurs in syllables that end with a consonant (closed syllables), whereas the [o] vowel almost always occurs at the end of a syllable (open syllables). This was the contrast we saw with sot and sotte above, and the same pattern can be seen abundantly elsewhere in the French language:

beau [bo] – “beautiful”
bonne [bɔn] – “good” (f.)
peau [po] – “skin”
port [pɔʀ] – “port”
gros [gʀo] – “fat” (m.)
grosse [gʀɔs] – “fat” (f.)
faux [fo] – “false”
folle [fɔl] – “crazy” (f.)

As a result of this systematic pattern, the French will prefer [o] in English open syllables that are supposed to have [ɔ], like “saw,” “law,” “gnaw,” etc.

This seems to suggest that [o] and [ɔ] have become allophones of the same phoneme in French, although this was not always the case. Traditionally, there have been minimal pairs such as paume [pom] and pomme [pɔm], but presumably many French speakers now use the latter pronunciation for both words. I’ll have to do some surveying to confirm this, because my intuitions are muddled — personally, I still make the distinction.

Overseas Dilemma: How to Say Where I Come From

2 Dec

When traveling abroad, the first question you’re asked after you introduce yourself is almost always, “Where are you from?”

As an American, this question poses an interesting linguistic dilemma. Our country is blessed (or cursed?) with an exceptional number of different names, abbreviations, and nicknames. When you’re in your home country, you don’t think too much about this, because it’s not often that you actually have to specify the name of the nation that you’re in.

When a foreign acquaintance poses the aforementioned question at, say, a youth hostel, my brain usually experiences a delay of a few hundred milliseconds as I mentally scroll through the Rolodex of names for the United States of America, attempting to weigh the pros and cons of each one:

1. The United States. Given that “the United States of America” is definitely too wordy and would probably earn you some strange looks (although not as many as “the Republic of the United States of America”), “the United States” seems like a reasonable alternative. Except that like most Americans, I’m a fan of convenience and efficiency. “The United States” is still too clunky to fit in the drive-thru of my mouth, so sometimes it sounds awkward and unnecessarily verbose, as if my interlocutor had never even heard of this country before and needed a detailed explanation of how federalism works.

2. The US. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the liberally truncated form of “the United States.” It’s easier to say, but it risks not being understood, especially when your newly-met acquaintance is not a native English speaker. Acronyms are not universal (for example, NATO in France is OTAN and the UN is the ONU).  It could theoretically be misinterpreted as “University of Saskatchewan,” “unconditioned stimulus,” or “Ugandan Shilling,” all of which would make you sound crazy.

3. America. It has a dignified air to it, and it’s fairly current among Brits. However, it doesn’t translate so well with speakers of other languages. For the French, “Amérique” typically evokes not only the United States but also Canada, if not the entire North and South American continents (the French seem to be a few hundred years late on the memo that we’ve actually divided “the New World” into two parts). Even for Americans, the word has a bit of a bombastic quality, usually reserved for 19th century patriotic hymns or impassioned political rants about how Mexicans are ruining everything.

4. The States. Ooh, would you like a chai tea latte with that plate of pretentiousness? Even though “the States” is a convenient and common moniker in the rest of the English-speaking world, requiring the smallest number of syllables, no true red-blooded American can say it without feeling slightly treasonous. Dropping off the rest of the name around “States” almost feels sacrilegious, like the habits of a disillusioned ex-pat who’s trying to “act European.”

5. The USA. This one has certain advantages, namely that it seems to be recognized by speakers of many languages (unlike the “US” acronym). Probably because they’ve seen news clips of people chanting “USA! USA! USA!” Which is precisely why you’d rather not use it.

6. Say your state, not your country. If I want to avoid the name dilemma altogether, I can opt to tell people that I’m from New Hampshire instead. There’s one minor problem with this method: nobody knows where the hell New Hampshire is. It doesn’t fit into the average foreigner’s perception of the continguous United States:

A foreigner's view of America

Since “New Hampshire” is usually met with a blank stare or a face contorted in confusion, I have to qualify: “It’s near Boston.” If that fails, “near New York” will usually do the trick. Then they ask me if I’ve ever seen the Statue of Liberty.

In practice, I most often use “the United States” with non-English speakers, despite its wordiness. With Brits, Aussies, etc., I usually assume they can already tell that I’m American because of my accent, so I typically say “New Hampshire,” followed by the clarifier “in the US,” “in the States,” or “in America,” depending on my mood.

It’s near Boston.

Geographic Curiosities: the East-West Divide in Wisconsin

5 Jun

Those who know me well know that I have an unfettered love for maps.

This love reflects my long-standing fascination with geography. It’s been some time since I devoted an intellectually-oriented post on this blog to the subject (like this one from a few years ago). But sometimes things just spark my interest.

One such thing is the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is one of the thirteen states I haven’t been to (aside from a brief layover in Milwaukee, which I don’t count). In other words, it is essentially a mystery to me. I have no idea what life on the ground is actually like, but from my omniscient cartographic bird’s eye view, I have noticed an interesting pattern.

That is, eastern Wisconsin and western Wisconsin often do not like to be the same.

This east/west demarcation was first brought to my attention by the famous pop/soda/coke map, which plots the dominant term for a generic soft drink across the United States:

You’ll notice that in western Wisconsin, “pop” dominates as it does in the vast majority of the Midwest (with the exception of the large “soda” bastion around St. Louis). Eastern Wisconsin is somewhat unusual in its preference for “soda.”

A similar pattern emerges with another dialectal term – that used for the drinking apparatus commonly found in schools or public parks. The three most commonly used terms – “water fountain,” “drinking fountain,” and “bubbler,” are mapped by the Harvard Dialect Survey:

“Water fountain” is used by speakers on the purple dots; “drinking fountain” on green; and “bubbler” on red. Although the pattern in Wisconsin is not exactly the same as for pop/soda, we notice a strong concentration of “bubbler” in the eastern part of the state. (But not by coincidence – the word “bubbler” is derived from the trademarked name of the original water fountain developed by the Kohler Company in Kohler, Wisconsin).

After seeing these dialect maps several years ago, I hadn’t given much thought to the east-west divide in Wisconsin until I watched this fascinating lecture series from Stanford about U.S. electoral geography. In one lecture, the professor discusses the divergent voting patterns of eastern and western Wisconsin, which apparently dates back to the earliest days of the state’s history. To some extent, this pattern is still evident in the modern day. The east/west split can perhaps best be seen in the results for the 1988 and 2004 Presidential elections.

1988 vote by county:

2004 vote by county:

(These maps come from Dave Leip’s wonderful online atlas. Note that the colour scheme follows the pre-2000 convention, with Democratic-leaning counties in red and Republican-leaning counties in blue).

Again, the pattern is not perfectly consistent, but the counties do show a remarkable level of contiguity in their voting preferences. We are certainly not dealing with a north-south divide.

In the Stanford lecture, the professor speculates that the divergent politics could be explained, at least initially, by settlement patterns. Namely, the eastern (or more conservative) area was dominated by people of German ancestry, whereas the western (or more liberal) area had more Scandinavian settlers.

Modern ancestry maps can shed some light on this hypothesis:

Now, surely some of these geographic differences (particularly the dialectal ones) are probably better explained by things like population density than they are by ancestry. The eastern half of the state is clearly the more urbanized overall, as demonstrated by the density map below. But this makes the political division all the more interesting, as the general trend among American whites is for those in more rural areas to vote Republican, and vice versa. This seems to suggest that ancestry or some kind of deep-rooted culture in each part of the state really is important, because it trumps the national tendency.

So, what do you think? Are these geographic patterns all just a vast coincidence? There are certainly few other states with such a seemingly neatly defined duality. But whether there really is a ‘tangible’ east-west difference can only be determined by people who know Wisconsin well. Any natives care to chime in?

12 of 12 for March 2010

1 Apr

Here’s my 12 of 12 from last month!

I had Cheerios for breakfast in my room. The books and papers strewn about all over the place are an appropriate metaphor for my life at the moment.

I did some preliminary acoustic measurements to chart the low vowel system for one of the speakers recorded for my thesis, a 70-year-old man. He has a low front-central vowel in half, distinct from the vowel in trap and identical to the vowel in palm and start. These latter two are in turn much fronter than the vowel in lot. He also retains the distinction between north and force, evidenced by the distance between “horse” and “hoarse.”

For some reason, I’ve always liked this multilingual sign at a pharmacy near my house. English, Portuguese, and Vietnamese. I didn’t want any people in the frame, but when this mysterious hooded character walked into the shot, I decided to keep it.

Only in Canada. One of the moose is ‘wearing’ a Maple Leafs jersey and the other a Blue Jays jersey.


It doesn’t rain as much in Toronto as it does in New England, and in fact this was our first rainy day in a while. The winter weather had long disappeared, giving way to a very early and mild spring.

I had gone out to use the Internet at Second Cup (like a Canadian Starbuck’s), then returned home to hit the books. My favourite of them all is the Atlas of North American English. I’m tempted to just never give it back to the library, but I don’t think I can afford the $600 it would cost to replace it.

This is my great little Casio Exilim, which I used to take all the photos and videos from Europe and the cross-country road trip last summer. Unfortunately, it fell out of its case during the road trip in Grand Junction, Colorado, and was out of service until my parents sent it in for repairs. I got it back at Christmas.

This ominous-looking neo-Gothic buliding sits in the middle of Spadina Crescent, right on the edge of the U of T campus.

Downtown Toronto in the foggy night. I was headed to see Swan Lake at the Four Seasons Centre. I had originally wanted to see Bizet’s Carmen, but the tickets sold out so fast that I had to settle on the ballet. But hey, it’s Tchaikovsky.

The interior of the Four Seasons Centre is pretty spiffy and ultramodern. The illuminated staircase is the best part.

It was incredibly difficult to take a surreptitious photograph during the performance, but I managed to get this semi-visible shot during the final bows. Overall, it was a very cool experience, although it seemed like they made a few edits to the score, which I wasn’t terribly happy about. But the dancing was very impressive and all the costumes were pretty sweet.

On my way home, I walked through Chinatown. I liked how all the brightly-lit signs shone on the wet sidewalks.

12 of 12 for January 2010

13 Jan

Not my most interesting set of photos yet, but it’ll have to do. This actually marks the first time that I’ve done three 12 of 12s in a row in the same place. I get around a lot.

My first class was at the ungodly hour of 9:30am (anything before 10 seems too early in college), so I was up bright and early and shortly on my way to campus. My class was inside the beautiful neo-Gothic University College building, which I photographed here from the Front Campus.

Oh, and before I got to class I stopped at Starbuck’s for some essential caffeine and carbohydrates (a lemon cranberry scone). The class was our M.A. Forum, which I’ll be presenting in next week. Wish me luck.

After class I exited through the UC Courtyard, which looks positively magical in the snow. The whole building feels like a castle.

I liked it so much I had to include two photos. I love the cloisteresque corridor here.

The large majority of squirrels in Toronto are black. But they still like crackers.

While I was lucky enough to not have to buy any books last semester, I had to buy two on the 12th: one for Phonetic Analysis (left) and one for Urban Dialectology (right — written by my thesis advisor). Overall, I’m happier with my courses this semester because they are much more useful and in line with my interests.

Later I headed to the department to work on my upcoming Forum presentation. Here’s one of the slides from my PowerPoint. The topic is the receding conservative pronunciation of “BATH”-type words in New England, which includes words like half, last, and laugh. Middle-aged and especially older people sometimes use a more backed vowel in these words (similar to the pronunciation in, say, Australia or parts of England). But this feature has more or less disappeared completely in people under age 30.

There was a big poster sale going on in our building. The Star Wars poster towering above all the others caught my eye, but I did not buy it.

In the evening I TA’ed my first tutorial of the semester. I’m still teaching the same course, but with new students. Overall, they were quite a bit more proactive and interested in the topic than my previous group. Several of them seem to be quite intelligent and linguistically inclined. My only concern is that we got a little bogged down in their more advanced questions, which may have left the rest of the class a bit lost. I may have to rein them in from time to time. Anyway, we talked about the competing prescriptive rules that influence people’s choice of a generic third person singular pronoun, and how the formal prohibition of they is arbitrary, problematic, pointless, and not supported by historical precedent. Prescriptivism sucks.

After tutorial I snapped this shot of the CN Tower from campus.

And another shot of University College at night!

Then I went home, made dinner, and fell asleep almost immediately.

An Incomplete A-Z Glossary of the Past Decade

3 Jan

Since I’m obsessed with history, pop culture, and nostalgia, I decided to begin a series of retrospectives on the decade that has just ended. The first task I took upon myself was to compile a list of all the words I could possibly associate with the 2000s. It was a challenging endeavour, to say the least. You will find this very incomplete “glossary” below — feel free to add your own entries, as I surely have not done this crazy decade justice.

#

9/11
16:9
24
300
2 girls 1 cup
24-hour news cycle
28 Days Later
30 Rock
40-Year-Old Virgin, The
4chan
50 Cent
80s nostalgia

A
A.I.
Abu Ghraib
Across the Universe
Adult Swim
Afghanistan
-age (suffix)
a’ight
airport security
Akon
Al Gore
Al Jazeera
Ali G
Alias
Alicia Keys
All Your Base Are Belong to Us
Al-Qaeda
Amazing Race, The
Amber alert
Amélie
America, f*** yeah!
American Chopper
American Idol
America’s Next Top Model
amnesty
Amy Winehouse
An Inconvenient Truth
Anchorman
Anderson Cooper
anime
Anna Nicole Smith
Anonymous
anthrax
AOL Time Warner
app
Apple
Apprentice, The
Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Arcade Fire, The
Arctic Monkeys
Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?
armchair general
Arrested Development
Ashlee Simpson
Ashton Kutcher
ass-hat
Atkins Diet
auto-tune
Avatar
Avenue Q
Avril Lavigne
Axe
Axis of Evil
Ayman al-Zawahiri

B
baby mama
Bachelor, The
Backstreet Boys
badunkadunk
bag for life
Baghdad
bailout
Bali bombings
ballin’
balloon boy
Ban Ki-moon
Barack Obama
bare midriff
Beautiful Mind, A
Beltway Sniper
Ben Stiller
Benazir Bhutto
Bennifer
Bernie Mac
Bernie Madoff
Beyoncé Knowles
BFF
bicurious
Big Brother
Big Mouth Billy Bass
Bill O’Reilly
Billy Mays
biotch
bird flu
Birthers
Black Eyed Peas, The
Blackberry
Blackwater
Blades of Glory
Blagojevich
Blanket Jackson (over the balcony)
bleached blond hair
bling (bling)
Blink-182
Bloc Party
blog
blogosphere
Bluetooth
Blu-ray
boho-chic
Borat
Boston Legal
Boston Public
Botox
Bourne Trilogy, The
Bowling for Columbine
box sets
brain fart
Brangelina
bridezilla
Britney Spears
Brokeback Mountain
bromance
Bruce Almighty
Burger King King
Burj Dubai
Bush v. Gore
Bushisms
Butterfly Effect, The

C
California recall
Can you hear me now?
Can’t Get You Out of My Head
canvas totes
capris
Captain Sully
carbon footprint
Carrie Prejean
Carrie Underwood
Cash for Clunkers
Cast Away
Catholic sex abuse scandal
CGI
Change
Chappelle’s Show
Chapter 11
Chechnya
chillax
Chocolate Rain
Chris Brown
Christian Bale
Christina Aguilera
Chronicles of Narnia, The
Chuck Norris facts
City of God
civil unions
Clay Aiken
Clay Henry
climate change
Clocks
Cloverfield
cockblock
Colbert Report, The
Coldplay
Colin Powell
comic book movie
Concorde crash
Condoleezza Rice
cosplay
cougar
Counter-Strike
craigslist
Crash
Crazy
credit crunch
Creed
Cribs
Crocs
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
crunk
CSI
Curb Your Enthusiasm
CW, The

D
D.C. Madam
Da Vinci Code, The
Daft Punk
Dan Brown
Dancing with the Stars
Daniel Craig
Daniel Pearl
Danish cartoons
Darfur
Dashboard Confessional
David Beckham
DDR
Deal or No Deal
Death Cab for Cutie
death panel
Decembrists, The
decider, the
Demetri Martin
Demotivators
Departed, The
Descent, The
Desperate Housewives
Destiny’s Child
Dexter
Dick Cheney
Dick in a Box
digital cameras
dirty bomb
Dixie Chicks
DO NOT WANT
Don Imus
Donald Trump
Donnie Darko
Don’t tase me, bro
Dora the Explorer
Dot-com bubble
douche
douche chill
Dr. Phil
Dragonball Z
dramatic chipmunk
Drop It Like It’s Hot
Dubai
Dubya
Dude, Where’s My Car?
DVDs
DVR

E
earmarks
ebaumsworld
Election 2000
electronica
Elian Gonzales
Eliot Spitzer
Elizabeth Smart
Emeril Lagasse
Eminem
emo
energy drinks
Engrish
Enron
Entourage
epic
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Ethanol
Euro
European Heat Wave of 2003
Evanescence
evil-doers
extraordinary rendition
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

F
facebook
facepalm
Fahrenheit 9/11
FAIL
fairtrade
Fall Out Boy
Fallujah
Family Guy
fashionista
Fast and the Furious, The
fauxhawk
Fear Factor
Fergalicious
Fergie
fetch
Final Destination
financial crisis
Finding Nemo
Firefly
Firefox
Flaming Lips, The
flash mobs
flat-screen
Flight of the Conchords
flip-flopping
Flying Spaghetti Monster
FML
fo’ shizzle my nizzle
foodie
foreclosures
Franz Ferdinand
Frat Pack, The
Freddy Got Fingered
freedom fries
freegan
From Justin to Kelly
frosted hair
FTW
furries

G
Game, the (sorry, you just lost)
game-changer
Garden State
Gary Condit and Chandra Levy
gaydar
GEICO
gel pens
geocaching
George Bush doesn’t care about black people
George Lopez
George W. Bush
Get ‘er done
ghetto
Ghost Hunters
Gigli
Gilmore Girls
ginger
ginormous
girly men
Gladiator
global warming
Gnarls Barkley
Gnutella
goatse
God Bless America
Goldman Sachs
Goldmember
Gone in Sixty Seconds
Google
Gossip Girl
Governator
GPS
grammar Nazi
Grand Theft Auto
Great American Boycott
green
Grey’s Anatomy
grinding
Ground Zero
Guantanamo Bay / Gitmo
Guitar Hero
G-Unit
Gwen Stefani
Gym Class Heroes

H
H1N1
Haliburton
Halle Berry
Halo
Hamid Karzai
hanging chads
Hangover, The
Hans Blix
Harry Potter
hater
hawt
hax (h4x)
HeadOn
Heath Ledger
Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt
hella
Heroes
Hey Ya!
Hezbollah
High Definition
High School Musical
high-speed Internet
Hillary Duff
Hills Have Eyes, The
Hills, The
hip hop culture
hipsters
hockey mom
holla
hollaback girl
Homeland Security
Homestar Runner
hoodie
hookah
hooking up
Hope
Hot Topic
House (M.D.)
housing market bubble
How I Met Your Mother
Howard Dean scream
Hugh Jackman
Hugo Chavez
Human Genome Project
Hummers
hybrid
hyphy

I
I do what I want!
I drink your milkshake!
I like!
I see what you did there
I.E.D.
Ice Road Truckers
illegal immigration
ILOVEYOU
I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
I’m f***ing Matt Damon
I’m Lovin’ It
I’m on a Boat
I’m Rick James, bitch
IMDb
I’mma let you finish
In Da Club
Incredibles, The
Indian Ocean Tsunami
indie
insider trading
insurgents
Intelligent Design
Internets, the
interweb(s)
Invisible Children
iPhone
iPod
Iran
Iraq
ironic T-shirts
Is that your final answer?
Islamic extremism
It’s a trap!
iTunes

J
J.K. Rowling
Ja Rule
Jack Black
Jackass
Jamie Salé and David Pelletier
Jared Fogle
Jay-Z
Jena Six, The
Jennifer Holloway
Jessica Alba
Jessica Simpson
Jesusland
jewfro
jihad
Jim Gaffigan
Jimmy Eat World
JLo
Joe Lieberman
Joe Millionaire
Joe Sixpack
Joe the Plumber
John Ashcroft
John Edwards
John Kerry
John McCain
John Walker Lindh
Jon and Kate Plus 8
Jon Stewart
Jonas Brothers
Judd Apatow
Juno
Justin Timberlake

K
Kabul
Kanye West
Karl Rove
Katrina
KaZaA
Keith Olbermann
Keith Urban
Kelly Clarkson
Ken Jennings
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
K-Fed
Kill Bill
Kim Jong-Il
Kim Kardashian
kind of a big deal
Kindle
Kings of Leon
Kobe Bryant
kthxbye
Kurds

L
L Word, The
Lady Gaga
Large Hadron Collider
LARPing
Larry Craig
Leave Britney alone
Lebanon War
LeBron James
leetspeak
leggings (and mini-skirts)
legit
Lehman Brothers
Leona Lewis
Let the Right One In
Let’s roll
Lil Wayne
Lilo & Stitch
Lindsay Lohan
Linkin Park
lipstick on a pig
Little Miss Sunshine
livejournal
Lives of Others, The
Livestrong
Liza Minnelli and David Gest
Lizzie McGuire
lolcats
London bombings
Lonelygirl15
Lord of the Rings
LOST
Lost in Translation
low rise jeans
low-carb diets
Ludacris
Lupe Fiasco

M
M. Night Shyamalan
M.I.A.
mad cow disease
Mad Men
Madeleine McCann
Madrid bombings
Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Ahmadenijad
make it rain
Malcolm in the Middle
Mamma Mia!
man crush
manscaping
Marc Rich pardon
March of the Penguins
Mark Foley
Mark Sanford
Maroon 5
Mars rovers
Martha Stewart
mash-up
mavericks
McGriddles
McLovin’
McMansion
McNasty
Me, Myself & Irene
Mean Girls
meep
Meet the Parents
meetup
meh
Mel Gibson
meme
Memento
Memoirs of a Geisha
Mentos and Coke
metro(sexual)
Michael Cera
Michael Ian Black
Michael Jackson
Michael Moore
Michael Phelps
Michael Schumacher
Michael Vick
Michelle Obama
Miley Cyrus
MILF
military tribunals
Milkshake (brings all the boys to the yard)
Minority Report
Miracle on the Hudson
Miss South Carolina
Mission Accomplished
Missy Elliott
misunderestimate
Mitch Hedberg
MMORPGs
mobile 3G
mockumentary
Modest Mouse
Mole, The
Monk
more cowbell
Moscow theatre hostage crisis
Mosul
Moulin Rouge!
MP3s
muffin top
muggle
Muse
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
my friends
My Name is Earl
My Super Sweet 16
MySpace
MySpace angles
MythBusters

N
‘N Sync
n00b
Nancy Pelosi
nanotechnology
Napoleon Dynamite
Napster
Naruto
Nas
nasty
Nelly Furtado
Neo-Con
Neopets
nerdgasm
netbook
Netflix
Nickelback
Nicole Richie
ninjas
Nintendo DS
Nip/Tuck
No blood for oil
No Child Left Behind
No Country for Old Men
Norah Jones
North Korea
Northeast Blackout of 2003
Northern Alliance
Notebook, The
NSFW
nucular
Numa Numa

O
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
O RLY?
O.C., The
Ocean’s Eleven / Twelve / Thirteen
Octomom
off the chain
Office, The
offshore drilling
Oh, snap!
Old School
OMG
on the DL
Operation Iraqi Freedom
organic
Osbournes, The
Others, The
OutKast
outsourcing
oversized sunglasses
OxyContin

P
P2P file sharing
PalmPilot
Panic Room
Pan’s Labyrinth
Paper Planes
Paris Hilton
Passion of the Christ, The
Patriot Act
PDAs
Peanut butter jelly time
Pearl Harbor
Pervez Musharraf
Peter Jackson
phishing
photoshop
Pianist, The
Pimp My Ride
pirates (Somalia & Internet)
Pirates of the Caribbean
plasma TV
Plutoed
podcast
Poker Face
Pope Benedict XVI
popped collar
pre-emptive
prequel
Prison Break
Prius
Producers, The
prohibited liquids
Project Runway
PS2 / PS3
PT Cruiser
public option
pundit
Punk’d
Pussycat Dolls
pwn(ed) / own(ed)

Q
QFT
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

R
Rachael Ray
racial profiling
Radiohead
Ralph Nader
random
Raptor Jesus
Rascal Flatts
Ratatouille
Razor scooters
reality television
reboot
recount
Red Bull
Red States, Blue States
regime change
Regis and Kelly
remake
Reno 911!
Requiem for a Dream
reverse the curse
RIAA
Richard Reid / the Shoe Bomber
Rickroll
Ricky Gervais
ridiculous / ridonk(ulous) / ricockulous
Rihanna
Ring, The
ringtones
Road to Perdition
Rob Schneider
Robert Blake
Rock Band
ROFLcopter
Roger Federer
rolling blackouts
rollover (SUVs and minutes)
Ron Paul
Royal Tenenbaums, The
Ruben Studdard
Rudy Giuliani
Runaway Bride
Russell Crowe
Ryan Seacrest

S
Sacha Baron Cohen
Saddam Hussein
Salad Fingers
same sex marriage
Sarah Palin
Sarah Silverman
SARS
Sasha and Malia
sausage fest
Saw
Scary Movie
School of Rock
Scientology
Scooter Libby
Scott and Laci Peterson
Scrubs
Seabiscuit
Sealab 2021
Sean Kingston
Segway
September 11th
Serena & Venus Williams
Seven Nation Army
sexile
sexting
sexyback
shaggy hair
Shakira
Shaun of the Dead
Shia LaBeouf
Shi’as
Shock and Awe
shovel-ready
Shrek
sick / ill
Sigur Ros
Simon Cowell
Simple Life
Sims, The
Sin City
Six Feet Under
sketchy
skinny jeans
Skype
Slumdog Millionaire
smoking bans
Snakes on a Plane
Snape kills Dumbledore
Snoop Dogg speak
social networking sites
Something Awful
Soulja Boy
South Ossetia
South Park
Space Shuttle Columbia
spam
spider hole
Spider-Man
spiked hair
SpongeBob SquarePants
Star Wars kid
Star Wars prequels
stay the course
staycation
stem cell research
Stephen Colbert
steroids
Steve Carrell
Steve Irwin
STFU
straightened hair
strategery
streaming video
Strokes, The
subprime
Sudoku
Sunnis
Superbad
Supersize Me
Surge
Survivor
Susan Boyle
sustainability
Swift Boat
Swine Flu

T
Taliban
Talladega Nights
tap that
tard (suffix)
tasers
Taylor Swift
Tea Partay
tea party protests
Team America: World Police
Team Edward / Team Jacob
Ted Williams
teeth whitening
Terror alert color system
Terry Schiavo
Texas Hold ’em
texting
texts from last night
That ’70s Show
That’s what she said
This is Sparta
Tiger Woods
Tikrit
Timbaland
Tina Fey
TiVo
tl;dr
To Catch a Predator
Tom Brady
Tom Cruise
TomKat
Tony Blair
torrents
torture porn
totes
totes magotes
town hall meetings
Traffic
tramp stamps
Trigger Happy TV
Triplets of Belleville, The
Trogdor
troll
trucker hats
truthers
truthiness
tweens
tweet
Twilight
Twitter

U
über
Uday and Qusay
Uggs
Ugly Betty
underboob
Underworld
Usain Bolt
USB flash drives
USS Cole bombing

V
V card
V for Vendetta
vajayjay
Valerie Plame affair
vampires
Very nice!
Viktor Yuschenko
viral video
Virginia Tech
Vladimir Putin
vlogs

W
Walk the Line
WALL-E
Wanda Sykes
War on Terror
wardrobe malfunction
warmonger
warrantless wiretapping
Watchmen
waterboarding
Weakest Link, The
weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)
Web 2.0
Wedding Crashers
Weeds
Wes Anderson
Westboro Baptist Church
whassup
White Stripes, The
Who let the dogs out?
Whose Line is it Anyway?
Why so serious?
Wicked
widescreen
Wii
wiki
wikipedia
Will Ferrell
William Hung
Willis Tower
Wilson!!!!!!!!
Windows XP
Winona Ryder
Wire, The
wireless / Wi-Fi
World of Warcraft
World Trade Center
World Trade Center
WorldCom
Writers Strike

X
Xanga
Xbox
XFL
X-Men

Y
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Yes we can
You lie!
your Mom jokes
You’re fired!
youtube
ytmnd
Yu-Gi-Oh!
yvan eht nioj

Z
Zac Efron
Zacarias Moussaoui
Zhang Yimou
Zinedine Zidane
zombie walks
Zombieland
zOMG
Zoolander