News from Mars

I saw the news about Umpqua a few hours ago. I did a quick search for news reports and posted one on Facebook. One of the first few comments I received linked to the 4chan thread on the channel /r9k/ that the shooter had allegedly been posting on just minutes before the shooting. Activity on the thread was high, with some commenters egging the OP on (OP: original poster) to follow through on his plan. The Daily Mail’s report on the thread in question highlights some representative posts, and provides some broader context on 4chan and its community (if you can call it that; anonymity is the norm) of users.

Something that isn’t as easily presented through representative posts, however, is the discursive frame1 that many of the participants in the thread adopt2 (or at least acknowledge). I was trying to get a sense of it while reading through the thread (an unpleasant experience), so I figured I might as well write down what I’ve figured out so far. Also it’s almost completely new to me (something I’m somewhat glad to be able to say).

1. ‘so long, space robots’

The OP signs off his initial post this way. This is a reference to the 4chan channel (/r9k/ stands for ROBOT9001).

Another prominent term in the thread is ‘normie’, which UD defines thus:

‘1. A person who does not have a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mood disorders, PTSD, depression or any similar mental disability. “Normie” is a reference to those who are a part of the mainstream culture; the 97% of the population who do not have a mental illness.’

I think the above is a rather narrow definition, and that the sense of it probably expands, in the context of /r9k/, to all non-participants in the /r9k/ subculture. It would also serve as a term to exclude, for instance, commenters who do not demonstrate that they subscribe to the ‘right’ set of norms, including communicative norms (e.g. familiarity with certain memes and fluency in employing them).

But overall we see that the identity that the ‘space robots’ are attempting to normalize, is to be the antithesis of the ‘normies’. It’s about experiencing solidarity by being non-normal (a familiar enough pattern in fandom culture), but in this context it seems ramping it up from non-normal to anti-normal is imagined to demonstrate one’s credentials as a member of the in-group more emphatically.

2. ‘beta’, ‘beta uprising’

While the alien-normie dichotomy probably isn’t going to be picked up on in the ensuing media commentary, the beta-alpha one probably is, because of the existing popular interest in MRA stuff (Wiki).

The basic idea is that alpha-males get the lion’s share of society’s rewards (e.g. female attention, most often; but also social rewards more generally like economic rewards), at the expense of beta-males who, by virtue of being less aggressive and less willing to exploit others, get a lesser share, but who nevertheless continue to participate in society and keep it going, by passively accepting those unfair terms.

The solidarity project here is advanced by self-identifying ‘betas’.

So I read a term like ‘beta uprising’ and there are echoes of, say, Marxist rhetoric, but overall it’s a rather twisted reinterpretation of the critique of power more generally (which we see in Marxist ideology, but is also part of feminism, anarchism, etc.).

3.  ‘Chad’, ‘Chads and Stacies’ 

Basically the antagonists. The generic male/female names stand for generic, ‘normie’ people. ‘Chad’ (rather than ‘Chads and Stacies’) is referred to much more often in the thread, because Chads (‘asshole jocks’) are basically the bane of beta experience. I’m inferring, but I would say Chads need not necessarily be alphas; they just happen to behave in ways that self-identifying betas find antogonizing.

4. ‘edgy’, ‘edgelord’

There is a popular sense of ‘edgy’ that means something like ‘challenging to societal norms, in a somewhat dark way’ (paraphrasing the top UD definition). The sense of ‘edgy’ is somewhat more specific in this subculture, however. The UD definitions for ‘edgelord‘ capture this quite well:

1: ‘A poster on an Internet forum, (particularly 4chan) who expresses opinions which are either strongly nihilistic, (“life has no meaning,” or Tyler Durden’s special snowflake speech from the film Fight Club being probably the two main examples) or contain references to Hitler, Nazism, fascism, or other taboo topics which are deliberately intended to shock or offend readers.’
2: ‘Fedora tipping, fat fuck that spends his life on anime cartoon message boards being a worthless pile of shit. Nobody likes this guy but he acts like he doesn’t care. He’s a pathetic, lost kissless virgin that should just kill himself.’

So the higher-voted definition is a lot less inflammatory (quite successfully provides a veneer of academic objectivity on this interpretation of the employment of the term in the discourse), and the second definition is a lot closer to the tone of the thread I was reading – but more importantly I think there’s a layer of irony that the person supplying the second definition is aware of. I read it as a space robot speaking with the voice of a Chad – so basically as much self-hate as hate.


I’m just going to list some quick thoughts.

  1. In this discursive community, we see solidarity can be expressed by performing alienation. This does not mean we should assume all speakers think of themselves as alienated (though some certainly appear to).
  2. The dark side of this interpretation? Like the example of a group of dudes acting rowdy even when there are no chicks around, it’s like practising for the real performance. I see /r9k/ as the virtual space where the playing-out of the character of the space robot happens. For most users a basic premise is that this is a virtual performance (indeed necessarily a virtual performance, otherwise how could one be alienated?) and not a real performance. Yet the edges of these realities do bleed.
  3. In all this, there is irony – but irony with a manic, involuted quality.

1. By ‘discursive frame’, I mean something like ‘cognitive schemas or structures shape the way individuals perceive and represent reality’ (article in the Encyclopedia of Case Study Research).
2. I say ‘adopt’ because there is an extent to which we can think of frames as being selected by a speaker on a particular communicative occasion.

O, Ingratitude, Where Is Thy Sting?

‘Opposition ingrates’ is a phrase I’ve seen floating around recently on social media. I found it fascinating, because while clearly meant as a stinging epithet within the very current context of GE2015, I found myself thinking: Couldn’t they have thought of something less anachronistic than ‘ingrate’?

As I understand it, the logic behind ‘opposition ingrate’ is that for a right-thinking Singaporean, your vote is owed to the political leaders that built a successful Singapore.1 This is not at all a difficult position to decipher, but I think it is a position worth examining in terms of the discourses and ideologies it implicates.

To return to the moment I first registered the term, to my ear, the use of ‘ingrate’ as a political epithet seemed out of sync with what I thought was the mainstream attitude towards politics and society. Wherefore gratefulness, in a meritocratic society where no-one is owed a living? Likewise, a persistent message of elections rhetoric is that you, the voter, have not been as well served as you have the right to expect, and the relationship between the state and you is that of service-provider and client, with the elections candidates being competing contractors.

In neither of the above schemas does gratefulness seem like the most relevant candidate for a social or moral value. It was in this sense that I saw what I called ‘mainstream attitudes’ being at odds with the notion implicit in ‘ingrate’, that it is your obligation to render your political support to the benevolent authority that maintains the social order.

This notion of a social order maintained by authority itself was something I would’ve thought was outmoded, or at least at a greater degree of remove from a current and popular political event. I’ve tended to encounter the idea in more hermetic contexts, e.g. in discussions about the history of political thought. In contrast, I saw current political news and its attendant media commentary (including satirical commentary) as tending to either start off from a different presumption about its audience’s political and social consciousness2, or identify anti-authoritarian/anti-establishment views with the popular consciousness. Basically, the idea of a social order wherein gratefulness to authority had significant moral weight seemed quaintly traditional, in a vaguely retrograde way.

Against this context, the question of whom exactly the people who use the epithet ‘opposition ingrate’ saw as their audience, was something of a puzzle. It would work, somewhat, as a message of solidarity, among some imagined majority of traditional, conservative folk with old-fashioned values; however, the audience against whom the force of the epithet is directed is, presumably, exactly the kind of anti-establishment advocate for whom ‘ingrate’ could hardly be expected to make sense as a moral criticism.

I wish I could call the situation I’ve described a novel one, but really it seems more and more like the template for political disagreement nowadays: call it the culture wars model, if you will. I might have called it ideological disagreement, but that would suggest more self-consciousness than appears to be in evidence, and I think the essential feature of this situation is the preclusion of the possibility of coming to terms.


The title of this post was also informed by my other, more superficial investigation of the instinct I had about the word ‘ingrate’ being somewhat anachronistic.

I went with Google Ngrams first, and we see clearly that you’re much more likely to be called ‘ungrateful’ (and even ‘faithless’) more than ‘ingrate’. ‘Ingrate’ is about as commonly used in the English corpus as the term ‘carpetbagger‘ (an epithet with a rather culturally specific context that, when used in a general sense, means ‘any opportunistic or exploitive outsider’, and when used in a current political context, might be fairly applied to a certain Son of Punggol).


Next I went on BYU’s GloWbE corpus.


Nigeria registered an unusually high rate of the token, and though there were a few repeat instances, it appears that ‘ingrate’ has found a place in the idiom of Nigerian film dialogue (choice example: ‘As for Awolowo, he is an INGRATE & a BETRAYER!’). There appear to be several examples from real-world political commentary as well (specifically, politicians’ comments on each other).

In Pakistan, the examples were almost exclusively from religious texts (‘Verily! Man is an ingrate […]’). This is a fairly common use-context for other countries as well.

The other fairly common use-context is football, which is where this gem of a user comment on an article about a returning sports star:

‘you are ingrate. Show appreciation small to nation builders for their contributions. You are a reicarnate of somebody in the biblical times who would shout crucify him, crucify him (Jesus) after getting drunk from the water he turned into wine.’


This comment was directed at another user, who favored another player as first-choice keeper.

But taking all of these observations together, my suspicion is just that ‘ingrate’ is used where they study more Shakespeare (and used less where they used to study more Shakespeare).

1. Relevant context here is the fact that the message, ‘The PAP led the building of Singapore,’ was clearly the message most thoroughly developed in public discourse, in a year that afforded several occasions to invite Singaporeans to collectively reflect on the nation’s history.
2. E.g. Singaporeans are politically apathetic and individualistic, Singaporean youth are influenced by Western liberal ideas and aren’t conscious of local history, etc.

Lexeme: ‘spoil market’

My target phrase was ‘spoil market’, which we (speakers of Singapore English) use idiomatically to describe an act or performance that is far more elaborate or troublesome than the norm, e.g. marriage proposals – among other things that a GloWbE search (of the sort I describe in the previous post) might reveal.

All in all, we have evidence for two kinds of ‘spoil market’ in web English, business/economic and love/relationships. These seem mutually exclusive except in Singapore. Interestingly, ‘spoil market’ turned up no hits from Malaysia.

‘spoil market’ in this extended sense might be distinguished from the restricted Singaporean idiomatic usage in that the extended sense would allow constructions like ‘spoil the market’ and ‘spoil my/your/our market’. However, it is possible that there might be a semantically related construction (i.e. related to the idiomatic ‘spoil market’) in spoken Singapore English that is extendible in this way, e.g. ‘sorry for spoiling market guize’.

I posted a query for ‘spoil’ with only right-collocate ‘market’ at maximum distance 9, which turned up the following results:

4 hits for .sg (Singapore), excl. 1 rejected hit.: I had hoped for more hits here, but this is understandable given that the corpus search will turn up mainly blogs and not spoken English.

  • Here there are 2 hits for ‘spoil market’, one in a romantic context to describe a ‘guy’ whose actions might cause ‘every girl’ to ‘want something epic also’. The other is someone who blogs fashion reviews, arguing that her fellow bloggers should not accept free stuff from merchants to review, in lieu of presumably better payment.
  • There were also 2 hits for ‘spoil the market’, referring to rent and wages.
  • I rejected 1 hit, for ‘spoil your market image’.

3 hits for .∅ (the US), excl. 1 rejected hit:

  • The context of the 3 accepted hits was business analysis, i.e. ‘spoil the market’, ‘spoil our market’, ‘spoil both of their market strategies’
  • The rejected hit was about transportation delays causing vegetable produce to spoil on the way to the market.

3 hits for .ng (Nigeria), 1 hit for .gh (Ghana), 2 rejected hits from .gh: 

  • The 4 hits were all about the love market (marriage and relationships). Here there is ‘spoil my market’, and less fortunately how your family could ‘spoil your market’, as well as ‘dey spoil market’ (‘dey’ presumably for ‘they’).
  • The 2 rejected hits were about vegetables.

1 hit for .bd (Bangladesh)

  • In this case, the writer is discussing how risk-taking firms can “spoil” markets (the writer uses scare-quotes), citing Stiglitz (an economist) on markets.

1 hit for .in (India)

  • ‘investors can spoil the market’

Rejected 1 hit each for GB and .au (Australia)

  • These were false collocates, in that they occurred within 9 words to the right but in a different clause or sentence, e.g. ‘spoil a wonderful spin-off to please a different market’.

Lexeme: ‘mischievous’

It was Singapore’s law minister’s use of the word some years ago which first struck me as interesting. I think most of us are familiar with the sense of the word that suggests playful troublemaking, but it was the sense of ‘intended to cause harm or trouble’ that Mr. Shanmugam was using, to refer to the actions of someone or other who was being sued for defamation/contempt/something else in that vein. Hearing the word used while being less familiar with the second sense, it had an interesting effect, because, as I interpreted the situation, he was attempting to highlight the seriousness of the litigant’s actions. However, then I had associated the word with playfulness.

The question I considered with this GloWbE search was how likely my experience was to be shared by other Singaporeans, or English speakers elsewhere.

Geographical Spread

One interesting result is regarding the absolute popularity of the word (as indicated by the darkness of the shading). The darkest shades were for Nigeria, Ghana, and Sri Lanka. In the next tier were India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Malaysia, and Singapore. The word was light-shaded everywhere else, though interestingly it does better in GB (677) than in the US (464). This might be significant especially if the US-attributed corpus is more extensive.

One interesting pattern is that the popularity of the word is low across Kachru’s inner-circle countries (the first six ccTLDs in the GloWbE results). As for the other places where it is unpopular, we had two African countries where it was popular, but it is less popular in Tanzania, Kenya, and South Africa. It is fairly popular in South Asia, except for Bangladesh. As for the Caribbean, Jamaica is the only major ccTLD represented in GloWbE.

These are interesting results, in that British colonial history is not clearly a good explanatory factor, since all the countries in the African region were under British rule at some point (probably why they’re in GloWbE in the first place). This may partly be a problem with sample size, however, because the numbers outside of the inner-circle are low across the board, with the probable exception of India. (To illustrate, light-shading applied to Australia with 257 and the US with 464, while India is a shade darker at 257. Dark-blue shaded Nigeria and Ghana are at 212 and 187 respectively.)

What might be a less weak conjecture is that the word is more popular where there has been influence from India or the diaspora. This would account for Jamaica (the West Indies having been a major destination of Indian emigration) and South Asia (with the exception of Bangladesh), as well as the low popularity of the word in Hong Kong and the Philippines. However, this works less well for Africa, since Kenya and South Africa have had similar or greater influence than Ghana or Nigeria.

Usage Data

While the results about geographic spread are interesting though inconclusive, the semantic analysis is less equivocal. Where ‘mischievous’ is more frequently used, the second (negative) sense seems more likely to be used.

In Nigeria and Ghana, it is often a testimony, accusation, ploy, etc. that is ‘mischievous’, though the other sense is not absent either (‘mischievous little raccoon’). In Jamaica, we get ‘deletrious and mischievous’, and in Sri Lanka, we get ‘mischievous and presumptive’, ‘mischievous oversimplification’, and (my favorite) ‘mischievous mystification of history’. In Jamaica and Sri Lanka the less malign sense is common too (e.g. ‘mischievous grin’ and ‘mischievous smile’). However, even where the less malign sense is employed, one could argue that its influence is not absent, e.g. ‘with a wicked yet mischievous smile’.

In contrast, in the US (and also the Philippines), this sense appears far less popular, relative to the other sense. A dog is mischievous, and a piece of music is called ‘playful and mischievous’. A contrasting example would be the ‘mischievous fact’ a book reviewer points out, in an argument he appears to be critical of. (While I’m not entirely sure from the sample snippet if this reviewer is against ‘cyber-utopianism’, I think it is safe to assume that he is not suggesting that the fact is playful, or that playing with facts is more culturally acceptable.)

Comparing this to the US, in the UK a semantic ambiguity, a survey about religion, and a ‘sinister purpose’ are called ‘mishievous’. We also get ‘mischievous’ in two related articles about a medical disease (one appears to be the same article as the .jm-attributed ‘deletrious and mischievous’). However, the other sense is also present (e.g. dogs, birds, a Playboy compilation).

In Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, the results are more evenly mixed (though I might declare a slight positive leaning in Hong Kong). On the negative side, we have a mischievous comment (.sg), mischievous reasons for accessing a database (.my), and North Korea’s mischievous behavior (.hk). In Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, we have mischievous tricks and mischievous boys. Regarding this character of the mischievous boy, this was the familiar, pre-Shanmugam usage of the term for me, and interestingly it appears quite localized.

Finally, I looked at the results from Bangladesh and South Africa, two countries which appeared to be anomalies in our consideration of the geographic spread. However, here I found that the negative sense was common, with ‘mischievous motives’ (.bd) and this interesting example from South Africa (.za): ‘To say he is injury prone as a result of these two unfortunate injuries is mischievous!’ This was actually the top result in GloWbE for .za, and I think it’s an interesting example because it’s nominally about a sports league: a playful pursuit, surely? especially since the sentence ends with a ‘!’ – though I suppose there are those who hold that rugby is a serious business.

Semantic Analysis

Overall, it seems ‘mischievous’ might be something quite close to, if not exactly a clear example of, a contronym (non-technically, a word that means both itself and its opposite, like ‘sanction‘ – though this has been called an auto-antonym). On the one hand, we have (1) serious-mischievous, which tends to be bad-mischievous; while on the other we have (2) playful-mischievous, which is, presumably, lovable only insofar as it is not serious.

In this respect, ‘mischievous’ seems similar to the word ‘provocative’ – provocative good, or provocative bad? One can imagine both. Sometimes ‘mischievous’ and ‘provocative’ collocate, which I suppose gives us 4 ways to be mischievously provocative.

But perhaps a better analysis is that serious-mischievous is serious because of context. Reasons and motives are mischievous when the contention is legal, political, or otherwise public-related; and even the relatively uncommon medical context seems to bleed some of that seriousness into the bad-ness of ‘mischievous’. In the UK, serious-mischievous might also fairly high-brow. It applies to characters in plays (‘a mischievous slave who would do just about anything for his freedom’), and comes up fairly often in reviews of plays, books, and art (especially if it could be called a reinterpretation of something else). The cultured/intellectual frame of the word is also one of the less-infrequent uses of serious-mischievous in the US.

To attempt a sum up, it appears sense (1) applies to human reasons, motives, and considered conduct, while (2) applies to animals and the human personality (or at least, those parts of human personality commonly regarded as less-considered).

Comments on GloWbE-aided analysis

There are clearly some limitations to the GloWbE-aided analysis, e.g. size of country samples unclear, some very small samples, attribution via ccTLDs, etc. To illustrate, perhaps this WordPress blog post will push the frequency-count for mischievous higher once it gets incorporated, and if it does will it count under .∅ (I mean the US) or .sg? However I think my main takeaway from this exercise is that looking for collocations would not have given rise to the description of the (1)/(2) contrast I posited. More generally, I suspect a machine-reading of the corpus would not have easily identified this contrast, even with a sophisticated syntactic parser.


More recently (2013), Mr. Shanmugam used the word ‘mischievous’ again, but this time he made his meaning more transparent: ‘ “Any forms of cyber attacks or threats are actually threats on the people regardless if the intent was malicious or mischievous,” he added.’