Friday, July 11, 2008

Saying the opposite of what you mean

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers, an American resident in Berlin, writes the following about Obama's impending visit:

"Everyone just assumes that thousands will come out for such a speech. And they’d be right. Berliners has already hosted dozens of Obama events, dating back to February. The Democrats Abroad were almost co-opted by groups organizing here before the Dems as a party could coalesce around a candidate. On Monday night there is another one – held perhaps ironically at the bar and club "White Trash Fast Food“.

It’s worth noting – in all of the dispute – that Kennedy’s most famous Berlin speech – the "ich bin kein Berliner" speech – was not held in front of the Brandenburg Gate, or the Berlin Wall, but instead in a (today relatively inconspicuous) market square at the Schöneberg city hall. "

Kennedy did not say "kein Berliner," NOT a Berliner. It was "ein Berliner." As with many such slips, the emendation contains a truth: John Kennedy was not in fact a resident of Berlin. It has also been pointed out that the more usual construction of the original sentence is "I am a sugar donut." (It's the insertion of the article "ein" that causes this.) Of course, Kennedy was not a sugar donut--but why should one deny such a thing?

In his book on slips Freud mentions a number of telling examples. One is the utterance of the president of Vienna's parliament in the turbulent days before World War I. Anticipating a roudy clash of dissident points of view, the speaker began his remarks by saying: "I hearby declare this parliamentary session closed."

In his superb book critiquing Freud's views, Sebastiano Timpanaro has pointed out that such mistakes are common when one is thinking in binary terms. He gives the example of a Stalinist lackey in the 1930s who was giving a two-part speech, the first section a denunciation of Trotsky, the second an encomium of the Soviet leader. As he neared the end of the Trotsky part the flunky indignantly said: "And now we come to the most horrendous of Stalin's crimes." His mind had raced ahead to the second part, hence the fatal substitution.

Of course there is "Wayne speak," of which I have the honor to be the creator, NOT.

Btw, the previous posting was my 300th at this particular site. Given my diverse interests, I do not get many regular readers--but hey, you never know. It may not seem so when I am in one of my more polemical moods, but I writer for the pleasure of it.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could care less.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Max said...

This is interesting to know that this is not only a common man's problem.

2:28 PM  

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