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Sunday, August 06, 2000

Leisure Time

Have you ever noticed that Hollywood English (the defining American accent), in order to be spoken crisply, requires more physical movement and effort than just about any other dialect of English? Even the most proper British can often be spoken with less movement of the lips and jaw, as in the Hollyword "hard" vs. the Brit's "hahd". But the case is much stronger with the many back-street accents of, say, Louisville ("lo-veal"), Liverpool ("livapoo"), Harlem ("hal'm") and so on. Most of these accents essentially work by removing sounds from the words, and drifting the remaining ones toward lower-effort synthesis. In effect, the phonetic space is compressed.

Which leads to the question: Is there a correlation between accent "crispness" vs. "slurredness" with vocabulary size? That is, are the many relatively slurred accents enabled (and hence in evolutionary terms "caused") by a contextual lack of need for a large vocabulary? It makes sense that the phonetic space, who's size is maintained both by physical effort and by mental mapping space, would over time be compressed as small as any given vocabulary allows for.

Perusing match.com, the American Woman attitude was strikingly pervasive (admittedly exacerbated by the online/geek-culture bias). I found it nicely summed up in this snippet from one woman's profile:

"But, since this is probably not the place to find someone with a looks/intelligence ratio greater than one, I will settle for someone to entertain me."

"I will settle for someone to entertain me." You may think it's sarcasm, but the surrounding context, and the flavor of most of the ads, strongly conveys the underlying premise that the dating game is based primarily on whether or not He can meet Her needs with no consideration to the reverse--as if we were peacocks trapped by birth-control into an endless mating ritual in which a woman never need look forward to the day she has to sit on the eggs.

Perhaps that's the just of it. In the past, women had a lot more at stake by sleeping with a man, which meant She was going to demand much more commitment, which in turn meant He was going to demand much more value, sizing her up with longer-term concerns weighing in.

Now it's all about leisure time, about being entertained, about passivity and consumption, not about working together in the great struggle of life to achieve and prosper. Struggle? What struggle? The new label on life says "survival guaranteed (prosperity sold separately)". I paid for the upgrade, but I'm finding it comes with no support.

Now there's a concept: Leisure time. What is "play"? Lion cubs tackle each other in play to learn how to fight in the wild. Children play chase and run through the woods and ride bikes and jump and swing to learn physical agility; and play games to learn mental agility. But it seems to me like most adults settle into leisure-time activities that stimulate the same sense without actually challenging them--like club dancing, listening to music, watching sports, smoking dope, partying, and so on.

Women in particular want leisure time--to be entertained, to shop and consume... Why is that? So now I know why a man would want a wife and children: They keep each other busy.

Are the women in other countries any different? And if so, how and why? I'm still far from having a concrete understanding of the difference, but the reputation exists and I certainly have an intuitive sense for it. Ah for a scanner to read my own mind and tell me what I'm really thinking.

Yesterday I was discussing with some friends what it is about Meg Ryan's characters that makes them attractive, and have consequently added a few adjectives to my growing list of desirable attributes:

I can't decide whether that's a tall order, or the universal depiction of how everyone sees themselves. Or both.

Reminiscent of my INTP profile, I've noticed that when I argue with or critique someone's thinking, in my mind I am asking them to think about my observation and explain to me why it doesn't apply. The problem is, it often does.

I needn't elaborate on the consequences of that. Suffice it to say, it's rarely beneficial for either party.

Suddenly, I have a craving for Tiro Pita. (Too bad it takes hours to make and I don't have any of the ingredients.)

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com