Tuesday, January 29, 2013


According to the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed". Partly as a result of this, America has by far the world's highest per-capita rate of gun ownership, with 300 million guns distributed among 311 million inhabitants. That's nearly 89 guns for every 100 people. It's nearest rival, Yemen, is at almost 55. Put another way, the US has 4.5 percent of the world's population, but accounts for 40 percent of all civilian guns.

The United States ranks 10th in the global league table of per-capita gun-related deaths, topped only by  central and south American countries and Swaziland, whose small populations (with the exception of Brazil) skew their ranking. The rate of death from firearms in the United States is eight times higher than that in its economic counterparts in other parts of the world. Indeed, the overall firearm-related death rate among US children under 15 years old is nearly a dozen times higher than among children in 25 other industrialised countries combined.

Last December, a young man went into a primary school in Newtown, Connecticut and shot dead 20 six- and seven-year-old children and seven staff members before turning one of his guns on himself. As a visibly moved President Obama subsequently pointed out, this was already the fourth mass shooting in his first term in office, and the second such incident that year. A rampage at a cinema in July left 12 dead and 58 injured. Two shootings in 2009 resulted in 27 deaths and 34 injuries.

Since 1990, there have been 55 mass shootings in the US, yet there have been few if any calls for tighter gun control. In 1994, Bill Clinton enacted a federal ban on semi-automatic firearms (though only those manufactured after the law was enforced) and high-capacity magazines. This ban, which many claimed was in any case easy to circumvent, expired in 2004. All efforts to renew it have failed.

The reason for this is the National Rifle Association, arguably the most powerful lobby group in Washington. The NRA vets political candidates for their pro-gun stance and has vehemently argued against any limits on gun ownership, asserting - so far successfully - that it is the constitutionally-decreed 2nd-Amendment right of every American to have a gun. As a result, it is legal in most states to buy and own so-called "assault weapons" that are made specifically for killing many people quickly, but which serve no purpose whatsoever for hunting or fishing. Consequently, the vast majority of massacres are committed with legally-owned guns.

Americans are inherently suspicious of state authority and feel passionately about upholding what they see as their "freedoms" (i.e. rights) - including gun ownership. The Wild West, log-cabin, pioneering, every-man-for-himself mentality runs incredibly deep. This plus the NRA's stranglehold on the weapons debate and scaremongering that "the Government wants to take your guns away" means politicians automatically shy away from the issue. Just the hint of a desire to limit gun ownership can be political suicide. In the 2012 presidential election, neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama proposed limiting firearms.

Fortunately, the Newtown massacre has horrified Americans to such an extent that the debate finally seems to be on the table and tighter gun-control has a chance of success in Congress, albeit a slim one. Even the NRA is scared this time, though its proposed solution would be to permit people to carry guns in schools, claiming that armed teachers would be able to stop armed crazies.

President Obama has asked Vice-President Joe Biden to put together a report on possible changes to the law. Although it is likely that Obama will limit the controls on who can buy or own certain guns (there are, for example, currently almost no restrictions on gun purchasing at trade shows, which account for 50-75% of all sales), it won't affect those weapons already in circulation. Because of this, there has been a run on the purchase of especially assault weapons since immediately after December's bloodbath, with people desperate to get their hands on one of these insanely deadly guns in case the regulations are tightened. Indeed, gun shops are complaining that they sell out the moment they get a delivery, and gun manufacturers are working flat out to meet demand.

Last week it was reported that a man in Minnesota pointed a gun at his daughter following an argument about her grades at school. She had two got Bs instead of As. The man had only just bought the AK-47 assault rifle - and another rifle - because he had feared looming restrictions on gun purchasing.

The US may be the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave, but in terms of guns it is truly the Home of the Dangerous and the Land of the Psychotic. I therefore sincerely hope that my family and I can avoid being involved in a shooting before we return to the relative safety of the Old World.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

French [Add Noun]

I used to think that "French" was a description of the language spoken by Fracophone peoples or an adjective that meant "pertaining to France". But maybe I'm too much of a stickler for linguistic accuracy.

Here in the States it can also have this meaning, though it can just as easily not do so, as the following misnomers show:
  • French fries: Everyone has heard of these. In Britain we call them "chips". Only the Americans seem unaware that they were invented by the Belgians. Briefly renamed "freedom fries" by US nationalists when France refused to join the Coalition of the Willing to Invade Iraq Needlessly.
  • French kiss: A teenage special this, defined magnificently by the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary - the New-World version of the OED - as "an open-mouthed kiss, usu. involving tongue-to-tongue contact". I may have received my first proper French kiss from my French teacher's daughter, but that still doesn't really qualify it as uniquely French. Spawned the verb "to French".
  • French toast: A staple weekend breakfast in American households, involving frying slices of bread dipped in a mixture of egg and milk. The (actual) French call this "pain perdu". Since neither eggs nor milk are especially French, and sliced bread certainly isn't, I fail to understand the French connection here either.
  • French bean: I say "green bean", the French say "haricot vert". Let's call the whole thing off.
  • French telephone: A combination telephone receiver-transmitter. By that definition, all our mobile phones are not Finnish or American after all, but French.
  • French dip sandwich: A hot roast-beef sandwich served with a side of beef cooking juice (known as "au jus") or broth, into which said item is dipped. Invented in New York - as in New York, USA rather the one that doesn't exist in France.
  • French fly: A button on the inside of zippered trousers, thereby allegedly keeping them flatter than externally buttoned ones. Do the French hide their buttons? And if so, why?
  • French dressing: Not vinaigrette, as you might expect, but a sweet, creamy salad sauce whose ingredients include ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, paprika and sometimes onions, apparently invented by Kraft Cheese in Chicago.
  • French manicure: A fashionable way to get your fingernails done involving, I'm told, a line of pink varnish at the top and white nail varnish below. Just like the French flag. Or not.
  • French onion dip: A mixture of sour cream, onion and chives used to dunk quasi-French crisps or tortilla chips into. Invented in that ur-French d├ępartement, California.
  • French roll: A circular or oval piece of bread, often sweetened, and therefore about as French as Marmite. Often used for the outer part of a French dip sandwich.
  • French silk pie: A creamy open pie filled with chocolate with a whipped-cream topping. The crust is similar to that of a cheesecake and therefore chilled, not baked. Appears to have been invented in South America. As in far away from France.
  • French chalk: Talc. Used by tailors, welders and metalworkers. Around the globe. Therefore about as French as water.
So in summary, "French" can mean using tongues, green, egg-and-milk soaked, deep-fried, all-in-one, hidden, sweet, bicoloured, dippable, dunkable or chocolate-filled. Obvious, really, when you think about it.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


 We ain't from around these parts.

 When one of them schools crosses the road, you better stop!

Don't you hate it when your boss refuses to sack you?

Odd Products

 Forget hints of chocolate. This is chocolate-flavoured wine.

 Who wants that nasty packet ketchup when you can have the fancy stuff?

 Seeing has never been so safe.

 What do you mean, dogs don't need Uggs?

With this "total training system" you can jump on AND off!

Odd Words

As you are no doubt aware, I collect examples of the often cringe-worthy words that I encounter in the New World. Some of these are neologisms, some noun-verb transfers, some merely an odd use of common words in the English language. All are to my mind odd.

At the end of the year - or, in this case, the start of the following one, I compile a list of these "American words". Some of these are self-explanatory. For the others I offer a short explanation or an example of their use in local parlance.

So without further ado, here is my collection of odd words for the year 2012:

Boxing week - The week after Christmas
Jingle bell (v) -"With kids jingle belling"
Mistletoe (v) – Hang up and kiss under said foliage
Medal (v) - To win a medal
Betterment - improvement
Mosque (v) - Flood with mosques ("The mosqu(e)ing of America")
Me neither - Neither can/do I
Me either - I can't/don't either
The exact same - Exactly the same
Motor (v) - Drive forward
Foundationally (adv) - Fundamentally
Savings (sing.) - "A savings of $10"
Headachy – Akin to a headache
Peek (n) - "Peeks of sunshine later"
Fivepeat (v) - Repeat five times
Nother - "A whole nother matter" (ie. a completely different matter)
Childrening (n) - child-rearing
Right-size (v) - Optimise the size of something (typically by downsizing)
Clean house (v)
Leaningest -"Pisa has the leaningest tower"
Toxicest - The most toxic
Permission (v) - Permit
Resonate (with, v) - "A film you can resonate with"
Reference (v) - "Reference this document for a $200 saving"
Ovenable - Capable of being put in the oven
Clergy (sing.) - Priest
Troop (sing.) - Serviceman
Speech (location) - "Protesters waited outside Romney's speech"
Lodging accommodations (n) - Like a hotel, except you get to stay overnight?
Fan (v) - Support/follow on FB: "Fan us!"
Motorable - Capable of being driven on
Solutionism - "The new optimism" (Dow advert)
Workout (v) - "Invite a friend you don't ordinarily workout with to workout with you"
Actionable (adj.) - Capable of being put into action
Reach (v) - Call/contact
Convincive - Convincing
Outweaponed (& outgunned)
Do overed - Done over/conned
Suffer with (ie. from)
Helm (v) - "Our director is helming another production"
Advantage (v)