September 23, 2020

TOTW: false cognates

For those who don’t know, false cognates are two words in different languages that sound like each other, but mean really different things. The classic from my life is folks learning spanish who think they can just add a suffix and get by, like embarazada for embarrassed, when embarazada in spanish actually means pregnant.

In a conversation on anews recently I was reminded of this concept, when someone was recommending that people make their own decisions about when to stay isolated and when to be social, rather than a) having a knee jerk reaction to the state telling us to stay home, or b) thinking that what the state tells us to do is definitely the best thing to do. Staying home because of your own reasons can look like acceding to state directives, but that doesn’t mean it is.

I wonder what things people here do that seem like they’re obeying rules, but are actually subversive or rebellious, like, wearing clothes that make you look straight so that people don’t notice you shoplifting. Or acting like a good worker so that the bosses, creepy co-workers don’t realize you’re sabotaging things.

And, since there are, in fact, always permeable transition states (some people are embarrassed by being pregnant), are there points when looking normal is feeding the state more than whatever-subversion-is-happening is taking away from it? Does looking normal at some point bite us in the ass more than we benefit from stealing or sabotaging or whatever? At what point does hidden resistance cease to be effective BECAUSE it’s hidden? (This obviously also has significance for questions of security culture too, but that’s maybe a topic for a different week.)

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