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Real kiwi

Do you feel real?

I am always happy to learn of examples of Unspeak in other languages, so Joe Mondello’s recent post on Korean fruit is most welcome:

I scoured the Korean language for examples of unspeak. Korean government agencies and media outlets tend to use a lot of euphemism (for instance, in the current avian influeanza outbreaks). Outright unspeak is a little more difficult to come across. and so far the best one I’ve come up with is ‘chamdarae’ which is a recently created term for kiwifruit grown domestically. Imported kiwifruit are still called kiwi. The unspeakableness comes from the fact that ‘chamdarae’ means ‘real kiwi’ (‘cham’ meaning real and ‘darae’ being some kind of disused earlier term for the kiwi tree unknown to most non-experts). So if the domestically grown kiwis are ‘real kiwi’, that contrasts with a imported kiwis which must be ‘gajjadarae’ (fake kiwi).

Real kiwi – nice. Perhaps this is an example of the more general phenomenon in which the term “real” is retrofitted to a thing that we never previously felt the need to insist was real, since it just was; but at some point people begin to fear that it’s under threat from some putatively fake version. At this point the old thing must be explicitly labelled as authentic, the “real deal”. Hence, perhaps, Coca-Cola’s insistence that it is “the real thing”; or the phrase “real ale”, which must be distinguished from the sinister beverages sold in your local chain pub. (I admit that I once assumed, in my blissful ignorance of Spanish, that the football team Real Madrid was defending itself against a team of impostors who also claimed to play for that city.)

A similar thing appears to have happened to give birth to the phrase “real time”, which only became necessary after cinematic editing practices and computer technology had fragmented and expanded or compressed time in new ways. So it was a novelty for a computer to run a data analysis in “real time” (first OED citation: 1953), or for a TV show such as 24 to unfold in an approximation of “real time”.

And what about “real life”? OED‘s first example of the phrase has Thomas Jefferson saying, in a 1771 letter, that “real life” is not sufficient for education:

Considering history as a moral exercise, her lessons would be too infrequent if confined to real life.

Jefferson appears to concede that history is not really life (and so somehow an inauthentic shadow of it), but argues nonetheless that it is a necessary adjunct to the “real”. As SW points out in comments, the context makes clear that Jefferson is not opposing history to “real life” but insisting that “real life”, when written as history, is inadequate as a moral tutor, since so little virtue can be found in it. Later usages did not often preserve Jefferson’s ironical scepticism, more usually implying straightforward denunciations of “real” life’s supposed competitors – fictional, theoretical, or latterly electronic simulations. (Just as appeals to the associated concept of the “real world” often encode a denunciation of theory or analysis – or, indeed, law – in favour of the particular bias or “realism” on which the speaker congratulates himself.) Besieged as it finds itself to be by the multiplicity of simulation, the appeal to “real life” seems increasingly poignant.

Real life, real time, real kiwis – what other things should we be keeping real, readers?

  1. 1  Gwynn Dujardin  January 30, 2007, 4:36 pm 

    Musing on Hamlet’s pronouncement that “I have that within which passeth show,” I thought Shakespeare’s emphasis on being more “realistic” (as we would say) in his Sonnets – recall 130, “I think my love as rare as any she belied by false compare” — would surely yield a “real” or two in there, but no. Only in the epyllion “A Lover’s Complaint” does he write

    But quickly on this side the verdict went:
    His real habitude gave life and grace
    To appertainings and to ornament,
    Accomplish’d in himself. . .

    . . . where “real habitude” is said to correspond to the “ornament,” or “outward show,” of the lover in question. This implies a perceived distinction between “habitude” and “ornament,” and we could deconstruct “habitude” as being in some way false; but from the standpoint of intellectual history, I think Jefferson’s OED entry makes sense, as the notion of “real” being a there that’s really there strikes me as post-Enlightenment in its outlook.

    Fast forward a couple centuries, as well as English icons, and you have the “Real Love” of the Beatles, ca. 1995: the recording itself composed around the spectre of John Lennon’s voice. . .

    What with the club’s reputation for style over substance, I think your Spanish-lite misapprehension of Real Madrid is somewhat apt, if not astute – especially as Beckham is now transferring to Real Los Angeles. . .(!)

  2. 2  Gwynn Dujardin  January 30, 2007, 5:02 pm 

    Ha, Steven, I just loaded BBC News. . . one of the “Sport Headlines”?

    Cricket: Kiwis Smash England.

    Might England’s bowlers take consolation from the possibility that they were trounced by “fake” kiwi?

  3. 3  sw  January 30, 2007, 7:50 pm 

    Yes, that’s quite right about “Real Love”, isn’t it? Insofar as it was not a real Beatles song. And “The Real World” is a simulacrum par excellence. On the other hand, few would want to risk even a staged exhibition match against Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield – who would quickly deal you a blow of tremendous authenticity and immediacy.

    I do not know the full Jefferson quote, but my reading of it is that Jefferson is arguing that history – considered as a moral exercise – provides too few examples of exemplary moral behaviour and so has to be supplemented with fantasy. It is less a commentary on the real than a commentary on moral figures and moral courage in history. Perhaps I’ll have to look up the whole quote.

  4. 4  Alex Higgins  January 30, 2007, 8:04 pm 

    Lots of things are real. From the mouths of politicians, the word is a reliable indicator of untruthfulness.

    £19 billion is real. From 1997-99, when New Labour was pretending to make large investments in social services while actually keeping to spending levels set by the Tories, they made inflated claims about the money they were spending.

    And so, David Blunkett (as brutal an Education Secretary as Home Secretary)insisted in response to a report by Nick Davies challenging precisely the reality of the £19 billion, that “the extra £19 billion of three years is real.”

    Eventually, a Treasury Select Committee threatened to point out that the government had actually reduced the education budget during those years, and the figure of £19 billion extra cash was quietly taken round the back and shot. But the epitaph, Blunkett’s oddly insistent “real” still stands out.

    Progress in Iraq is real, or at least it was until the White House determined that the situation was actually unacceptable instead, as has been documented here. As in:

    “Iraqi forces have made real progress”

    “many of those forces have made real gains”

    “the democratic progress they are making is real and permanent”

    “I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there.”

    (Quotes from Bush, Bush, Bush and Sen. Joe Lieberman)

    Famously, it has proven difficult to provide evidence of this progress, or metrics, in the preferred term.

    Real progress can also be made in other failed policies, such as attempts to disrupt narcotics production and smuggling in the War on Drugs in which we march from victory to glorious victory.

    Neither of these count as real Unspeak. There are no hidden assumptions implied in the use of the word – those involved are just lying.

    The Threat is Real. As the Prime Minister tells us often.

    That has to count as unspeak. The possibility of Bin Ladenists carrying out attacks on British civilians is not seriously in dispute, but the scale of the threat, its importance relative to other issues and the kind of changes society might be expected to undergo in response certainly are.

    The “threat is real” statements unspeak the actual debate and imply that challenging the government’s interpretation of the situation is the same thing as saying nothing will be blown up in anger in the name of Wahabbism, ever.

    Americans are real – this White House announcement of real Americans meeting Mrs. Bush is perhaps implicitly accepting that less-than-real encounters with proles are also arranged.

    Generally speaking real Americans don’t include liberal ones, of course. And especially don’t include people who have an alternative take on the merits of capitalism and US nationalism.

    Those kinds of Americans are presumably somewhat unreal, or more usually, lack authenticity.

  5. 5  Steven  January 30, 2007, 8:43 pm 

    SW, you are quite right about the Jefferson quote, as I would have realised if I had bothered to google it. Sorry. Here it is:

    Considering history as a moral exercise, her lessons would be too infrequent if confined to real life. Of those recorded by historians few incidents have been attended with such circumstances as to excite in any high degree this sympathetic emotion of virtue. We are, therefore, wisely framed to be as warmly interested for a fictitious as for a real personage. The spacious field of imagination is thus laid open to our use, and lessons may be formed to illustrate and carry home to the heart every moral rule of life. Thus a lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by reading King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics and divinity that ever were written.

  6. 6  Steven  January 30, 2007, 8:46 pm 

    Alex’s examples, meanwhile, show nicely that in politics, claiming something to be “real” is often a kind of last resort, an implicit admission that there is actually no evidence for its existence. (As former commenter Brass Ear would no doubt be quick to quote: “There’s no evidence for it, but it’s a scientific fact.”) So in this kind of usage, an appeal to the “real” is not meant to counterpose the thing to an inauthentic counterpart, but actually to Unspeak the possibility of any inauthenticity anywhere in the vicinity.

  7. 7  Steven  January 30, 2007, 9:12 pm 

    A propos the Shakespearean real and the notion of the real as something that’s really there, it might be noteworthy that when Helena reappears at the end of All’s Well, the King asks, of no one in particular:

    Is there no exorcist
    Beguiles the truer office of mine eyes?
    Is’t real that I see?

    “Is’t real that I see?” – is it real, interestingly, not “is she real”, or, more directly, “are you real?”. Helena replies:

    No, my good lord;
    ‘Tis but the shadow of a wife you see,
    The name and not the thing.

    So I suppose there is already some notion of a “real” thing as being corporeal, not mere air and talk, and not devilish illusion either. Although Bertram then says:

    Both, both; o, pardon!

    Which may be taken to imply that you need both a thing and its name before you can cry real.

    Meanwhile, Macbeth calls Banquo’s ghost an “unreal mockery”. And there is this from Leontes in WT:

    Affection! thy intention stabs the centre.
    Thou dost make possible things not so held,
    Communicat’st with dreams- how can this be?-
    With what’s unreal thou coactive art,
    And fellow’st nothing.

    You’ve got to love Leontes.

  8. 8  John Turner  January 31, 2007, 6:56 am 

    Isn’t “kiwifruit” itself an example of Unspeak? It was originally known as the Chinese gooseberry but was renamed during the Cold War by some Kiwis New Zealanders anxious to dispel any notion that it was linked to the red peril: see

  9. 9  Steven  January 31, 2007, 8:41 am 

    Nice spot! Fascinating to learn that the largest producer of the Chinese “national fruit” or the “wonder fruit” or “hairy pear” or “macaque peach” or kiwifruit now is… Italy. And don’t go calling it a “kiwi” for short:

    In North America, South America and Europe, the “fruit” part of the name is usually dropped, and most people associate “kiwi” with the fruit rather than the bird. This usage can cause some minor confusion and tends to annoy or offend many New Zealanders.

  10. 10  dsquared  January 31, 2007, 9:50 am 

    the “Real IRA”!

    (the only reason that Patrick Kielty remains off my death list is that he coined the nickname for them “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The IRA!”, which I have plagiarised so many times that to track Kielty down and break his arms and legs with iron bars for “Fame Academy” would be hypocritical).

  11. 11  Steven  January 31, 2007, 9:58 am 

    Ah yes, the “Real IRA” is a perfect example. (Was there something also about “provisional” that sounded too wussy and bureaucratic?)

  12. 12  dsquared  January 31, 2007, 11:59 am 

    not sure, but “Provisional IRA” was of course itself a bit of Unspeak of the time. They’re called that because they believed themselves to be the army of the Irish Republic, which was the 1919-22 state created by the unilateral declaration of independence and which ceased to exist with the creation of the Irish Free State, and later the Republic of Ireland. The Provos regarded both of these as illegitimate states and the 1919 Republic as the “real” government of Ireland. They appointed themselves as the “provisional” army of the non-existent government of this state. They split from the “Official” IRA over the issue of recognising the government in Dublin IIRC.

  13. 13  Gwynn Dujardin  January 31, 2007, 2:52 pm 

    How does the erstwhile BBC broadcast policy to _dub_ the voices of IRA leaders (with properly plummy “BBC English” voices) relate/figure here?

    Never understood that. (Really.)

  14. 14  lamentreat  January 31, 2007, 3:14 pm 

    Gwynn@13: they didn’t dub the Sinn Fein voices with plummy BBC voices – they dubbed them with actors doing a close-to-perfect mimicry of the original voice. In a way, this curious performed simulacrum (which everyone commented on at the time) was the single greatest factor in the repeal of the ban, since it – not (originally) intentionally, I think – pointed up its ridiculousness.

  15. 15  McGazz  January 31, 2007, 3:15 pm 

    MTV called its docusoap series “The Real World”, although it’s arguably not particularly “real” even by docusoap standards.

  16. 16  lamentreat  January 31, 2007, 3:16 pm 

    sorry – should have made clearer – the reason why they did this was that there was a ban on interviews with members of SF/IRA, but the broadcasters twigged that this technically only applied to their voices, not to their images.

  17. 17  McGazz  January 31, 2007, 3:21 pm 

    Actually, following on from the comment above: MTV rarely seems to play actual music videos these days, instead showing lifestyle programmes and celebrity fluff. Is “MTV” unspeak for “anything to capture that lucrative 16-25 demographic TV”?

  18. 18  dsquared  January 31, 2007, 3:41 pm 

    And in the fashion pages, “real women” means, depending on context either “moderately overweight”, or “just as thin as the other models, but with breast implants”.

  19. 19  Gwynn Dujardin  January 31, 2007, 4:29 pm 

    Many thanks for the info/clarification, lament. Being from the States, I had limited exposure to the practice (when it was in place) — but it always struck me as bizarre, in the very ways you parse/describe — indeed drawing *more attention to the “banned” figures, by way of aural/cognitive dissonance . . .

  20. 20  No one  February 1, 2007, 8:36 am 

    a bit off the point, but in reference to calling a kiwifruit a ‘kiwi’:

    a. yes it does annoy this NZer when people talk about eating a ‘kiwi’. But it isn’t the end of the world.

    b. in the 1990s, the powers-that-be in our sweet country decided to change the name of the kiwifruit to ‘zespri’, presumably trying to associate the term with ‘zest’; and presumably because there was ‘confusion’ about what a ‘kiwi’ was (altho any idiot can simply clarify matters by saying ‘kiwifruit’ instead of ‘kiwi’–and no one in NZ would *ever* call a kiwifruit a ‘kiwi’). I don’t remember the reason for the change, but this was around the time of the neoliberal reforms, when rebranding was expected, and seen as the first step to ‘success’.

    There was widespread derision of the term in NZ, because it made the fruit sound more like a scooter. The term zespri continues today, but ‘zespri’ is now a means of distinguishing NZ kiwifruit from other countries’ kiwifruit–as in ‘zespri kiwifruit’. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone overseas make this distinction.

  21. 21  Steven  February 2, 2007, 12:52 am 

    So “zespri” essentially functions like “real” in the Korean version, meaning “our”. Splendid.

  22. 22  Jeff Strabone  February 7, 2007, 3:25 am 

    The appeal to real life or realism is a common conservative move intended to end debate and discredit one’s opponents as inexperienced do-gooders, possibly marked by the taint of femininity. (How ‘do-gooder’ came to mean inadvertent do-badder will have to wait for another occasion.)

    The device works like this.
    Do-gooder: Torture violates the Constitution, endangers US troops, and marks us as a savage nation with no respect for the rule of law.
    Real-lifer: You just don’t understand how the real world works, you sissified intellectual. The end.

    The appeal to real life dismisses thought itself and elevates animal intuition: we can’t think about niceties and abstractions like, say, law and civilization; we must…destroy…enemy…now. I also find that the real-lifer typically turns on the machismo in such a way that implicitly questions the do-gooder’s gender for thinking too much. (And if the do-gooder is a woman? Well, the real world is apparently a man’s, man’s, man’s world.) Higher reasoning itself becomes suspect as feminine weakness.

    Do I go too far? Or do you just not understand how rhetoric works here in the real world, you sissy?

  23. 23  Steven  February 7, 2007, 4:04 am 

    I almost wish you would go further. Love your funky appellation “real-lifer”, whose resonance with another notorious term of Unspeak is wonderfully appropriate here.

    It does seem to be true, too, that the appeal to “real life” is commonly conservative, which makes sense if one thinks about one meaning of “conservative” (although not the one that still sometimes gets applied, for little apparent reason, to certain revolutionary cliques).

    But any “real life” is still a rhetorical construction (and still implies no particular action if we follow Hume on is and ought). I think there is something in your notion that it is a dismissal of thought itself. Naturally, no “real life” can possibly include thought as a regular activity.

  24. 24  Michael Welles  March 13, 2007, 6:33 pm 

    Hello, Steven & all.

    I’m a bit late to this conversation, but one possibly related issue in Korean is the use of the word “live” in reference to music broadcasts.

    In Korean the phrase “saeng pangsong” is usually translated “live broadcast” and the English word “Live” or the Korean translation would appear as a graphic in the corner.

    One day, two members of a musical group exposed themselves on a live broadcast, so the music programs decided to tape performances in advance to avoid any problems.

    After the ban, the phrase “saeng pangsong” is no longer used, but the English word “live” is used to indicate that the singer is not lip-synching. So a program labelled as “live” was recorded as a live performance, but is not being broadcast live.

    Nobody I spoke to here in Seoul knew this and assumed that they were still watching live music broadcasts. It’s easy to see how they could make the mistake since the word “live” pops up from time to time in the corner of the screen.

    I don’t quite think this is unspeak as much as it is an attempt by the networks to avoid the appearance of censorship by “retasking” the word “live”. However, this usage seemed in a way to be related to the concept of the “real”.

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