January 21st, 2011


Small "l"?

Dear Linguaphiles,

I came across an expression that puzzled me. It is from a biography of Robertson Davies, a Canadian author.

By 1942 Rupert had been appointed to the Senate as a Liberal, and perceptive readers could see that Davies' sympathies too generally lay with this party. But he tried to be even-handed in his political editorials. The stance was typically small "l", but not egalitarian.

What does small "l" (this is the letter "el", not "I") mean here? My only guess is that it refers to the word "liberal" being written with a small "l" (not capitalized), but this does not make it any clearer.

Thanks in advance.
misc - 月

voice pitch and register

The other day I was at a home improvement store with my boyfriend, and it came up that when I started talking with an employee asking about what options there were for custom sizing of an item my voice got excessively (?) high-pitched, which he felt was annoying and carried a sense of condescension, like I was talking to a pet or young child. This reminded me of once when I was working at a drug store and, in the middle of a conversation with a customer, I had to communicate with a co-worker of mine. The customer amusedly pointed out that I spoke with a much higher pitch with customers than I did with my co-workers, and we had a mini-discussion about this for the rest of our transaction.

Now, I certainly don't mean the high-pitched voice to be condescending or belittling - in fact I feel like it's me being more polite. A part of me wonders if this has to do with my gender - are females conditioned to use a higher, more "feminine" pitch when speaking with people of higher statuses, or when it's felt that a request is more taxing than simply passing the salt? Is this actually true of men as well? I also noticed that I have a really hard time NOT doing this with customers, and when I succeed I feel... stern. This lead me to notice that when I smile while talking, my voice seems to "naturally" raise in pitch, which may or may not be related to the phenomenon. Discuss.
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Verbing interrogatives

In Russian, there is (or used to be until fairly recently) a superstition about it being bad luck to ask a person where they(sg.) are going, using the word куда (kuda) 'where'. Doing that was called кудыкать (kudykat') 'to ‘where’'(?), and to bring by doing that the alleged bad luck was "закудыкать дорогу" 'to ‘where’ up the road'.

A suggested response to that question supposedly warding off the bad luck was "на (за) кудыкину гору" 'onto (beyond) the ‘where’ mountain'.

A "safer" way to ask the same question was "How far are you going?" instead; still, some considered even that too intrusive and brushed the question off by replying "Далеко, отсюда не видно" ("Far enough, it's not visible from here").

Are there any analogs of that custom and the corresponding verbed interrogatives in other languages/cultures?