Timestamps, References & Transcript
00:00 - Introduction
01:22 - Segment 1: The Shapeicide Investigation (Short Story)
09:36 - Segment 2: The Origin of "Deadline" (Metaphor History)
19:10 - Segment 3: Destructive Words (Communication Topic)
30:15 - Segment 4: Talk With Peter Soroye (Guest Interview)
Connect with Peter Soroye via Twitter: @petersoroye
Metaphorigins Instagram Page - https://www.instagram.com/metaphorigins/
Flatland by Edward A. Abbott - http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/201
Tim Urban - Ted Talk - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arj7oStGLkU
Deadline Definition - Lexico - https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/deadline
Word Origins - Blog - https://wordorigins-blog.medium.com/where-does-the-word-deadline-come-from-5bf35ffe5fa7
Worldhistories - https://wordhistories.net/2017/05/08/deadline/
Grammarphobia - https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2011/08/deadline.html
Christine Ammer - HistoryNet - https://www.historynet.com/fighting-words-civil-war.htm
Fulcrum First Story - News Article - https://thefulcrum.ca/news/professors-use-of-racial-slur-sparks-outrage-on-social-media-faculty-looking-into-the-matter/
Fulcrum Second Story - News Article - https://thefulcrum.ca/opinions/letter-to-the-editor-it-is-time-to-end-the-use-of-racial-slurs-in-the-classroom-and-tackle-systemic-racism-at-the-university-of-ottawa/
Student President - Open Letter - https://thefulcrum.ca/opinions/letter-to-the-editor-an-appeal-for-conscience-and-action/
Libertees Surveillees - News Article - https://ricochet.media/fr/3343/nword-ottawa-quebec-racisme-systemique-will-prosper?fbclid=IwAR0nrHgV6pMB70xJPTTUAl9-XnX91IotjGb1NBn1eipYh2yzYdQfaFUCPPI)
uOttawa Personnel Racially Instigated Actions - News Article - https://thefulcrum.ca/news/carding-of-black-u-of-o-student-was-racial-discrimination-investigation-finds/
uOttawa President Appeal For Calm - Letter - https://media.uottawa.ca/news/appeal-calm-and-reflection-president-jacques-fremont
Flying High by jantrax | https://soundcloud.com/jantr4x
Music promoted by Switxwrhttps://www.free-stock-music.com
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License | https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en_US
To my effervescent family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the Season 3 premier and 21st episode of the Metaphorigins podcast.
OH I AM BACK, with a packed season of words, metaphors, idioms and the origins of their creation, along with communication concepts ranging from academic ghostwriting, to consulting, to social media, to language in academia vs. industry, and more.
Now, to show support if you like this sort of content, please make sure to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify or Google Podcasts or whatever platform you are listening to this on, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, that’s @metaphorigins, where I will be posting most of my updates, as well as on my personal website: kjbmercurio.com/metaphorigins. Just a reminder, I will hold another draw on my 30th episode for the beautiful, butterfly-printed, custom Metaphorigins shirt, so stay tuned for that!
Again, super excited to roll out some new content in a new format, with special guests every episode. So do let me know if this vibes with you.
Okay. So for today’s episode, I’m going to discuss an idiomatic concept that we come across throughout our entire life, from early education, to professional settings, with unfamiliar origins to race and detainment.
As usual, let’s set up the scene: You’re one of the elite shapicide investigators of the Broke-line 99 Precinct. Now, you might be wondering what a shapeicide investigator is. You live in a universe similar to Edward A. Abbott’s Flatland in which your reality is two-dimensional instead of three. Now, they’re are some specific rules such a world consists of. I will only mention the relevant ones. All things, materials, animals, even people in this world, are shapes. For sight, because your eyes are levelled with every object, vision is dependent on depth perception. For example, a triangle and a square coming towards you from their sides are indistinguishable until they rotate so that one of their vertices or points faces you directly, and based on how quickly their adjacent sides fade towards their back, which is proportional to their angles, one would then be able to determine their shape. Lastly, social status is dependent on the number of vertices you have, and contrary to Abbott’s two-dimensional universe, social status favours less points. In your reality, single points (known as singularities) and rounded shapes (known as infinities) do not exist, so the social hierarchy starts at peasant hexagons (six vertices) and moves up towards royal lines (two vertices).
A shapicide investigator deals with cases in which a shape has been killed, either by another shape or unknown means. Currently, your Precinct is investigating the murder of the Duchess of Shapehatten, and the kidnapping of her daughter Verticallie. Your chief calls the entire precinct into the large meeting room for a debriefing.
“Ahem, ahem. As you may know, one of the royal lines was murdered three days ago, the funeral was held yesterday, and we still don’t have a suspect, neither do we know where her 14-month daughter Verticallie is located. Someone is trying to instigate Round War 3 in our district and it’s up to us to put a stop to it. Investigator Rhombuson, will go over some new information we have. Investigator?”
“Yes, thank you Chief. Myself, Investigator Trisoscoles and the newbie (that’s you) have compiled a new report which you should all find on your desks this morning. In it is the following. We already know that it was blunt point trauma that killed the Duchess. We aren’t sure yet whether it was a murder weapon or physical body violence that instigated the murder. An interesting note is that this occurred around 2 am at the Duchess’ secret downtown complex, which only family, close friends and law enforcement know about. This points to perhaps a relative who may be jealous of her status. But again, all options are on the table.”
“What are the new leads?” The Chief asks, “Who is up for an interview today?”
“The newbie is going to the Duke’s residence to interview him. Actually, newbie, why don’t you go right now, myself and Investigator Trisosoles can finish up the debrief.”
You head out the Precinct and drive your car to the Duke’s residence (how does driving work in 2D you might ask? I dunno, use your imagination). The Duke is waiting for you at the front door and ushers you in to the living room for the discussion.
You start, “Thank you Duke for meeting with me, and I am terribly sorry for your loss. This is why I am here, to help find the murderer that killed your wife.”
“Thank you and yes, I have been itching to tell an investigator about my account of that night.”
“Please, go on, and be as detailed as possible.”
“Well I woke up at around 2am and noticed that she was not sleeping in bed with me. We had boxfish that night, you see, and I think that her’s was not cooked to perfection, as she was up late quite ill. As I headed to the living quarters, where we are now, I saw what I can only describe as a singularity.”
You stare in confusion, “A signularity? With all due respect, Duke, those are just legend. Perhaps it was a line that knew how to angle itself in case someone stepped into the room.”
“I know, I know,” The Duke stammers, “but it just happened so fast that I am almost certain I saw a singularity. As a line, I know when I’ve seen a line, and this was not of royal line blood. It moved quickly out the door as I ran to the Duchess, who had already been punctured and was unconscious. She died shortly after.”
Just then a beep on your phone indicates that you’ve received a message. You reach into your side pocket and press the button that transmits the message to your glasses. It reads: “Meet at the deadline in 20 minutes, or else Verticallie will never be seen again.” You press the same button as well as another.
“I’m sorry Duke, I have to go, please stay in your residence and don’t speak to anyone else yet.”
You exit the Duke’s residence and drive as fast as you can to the Shapehatten Cementary. You get there in 15 minutes and run as fast as you can to the Duchess’ tombstone. Shocked, you see Investigator Trisocoles waiting for you.
“Did you get the same message?” You ask.
“No newbie, I’m the one who sent it to you.”
“What the hell is going on?” You panic, realizing you left your gun in your glove compartment.
“For years the lines have ruled over us other shapes. They think that they are vastly smarter, more cunning, and powerful than the rest of us. I hated them for my entire upbringing, and I am here to convince you to hate them as well.”
You start realizing how Trisoscoles sides fade into the back so quickly, and how sharp his frontal vertex is. He’s a rare isosceles triangle with an incredibly small inner angle. He is the one that killed the Duchess using this point.
He continued, “as a hexagon, I’m surprised you haven’t lived a life of crime, newbie. You were raised well, and rose through the ranks at the Precinct quickly. Once you were put on the case, I knew this was my chance.”
“Why are you doing this? What’s your end goal, kidnapping a 14-month line,” You ask.
“Round War 3. It’s the revolution. All complete shapes will stand up to the aristocracy and equalize the playing field. We want equality, and we will stop at nothing until we get it, are you with me?”
You pause, press a button on your phone and then another. “Did you get that Investigator Rhombuson?”
In your headpiece you hear, “Loud and clear, the Chief heard it as well. We’ve surrounded the Cemetery and are closing in on your location.”
A few seconds later half the precinct encircles Investigator Trisoscoles who surrenders. The 14-month old Verticallie was found in a car on the perimeter of the Cemetery and returned to the Duke and his family. Case closed.
Alright, let’s jump back into our three spatial dimensions. You might have missed it, but this word or concept is used frequently, when performing duties for school projects or assigned tasks at work, in order to have a coordinated flow of progress. But why are times in which responsibilities are expected to be completed associated with something as arbitrary as the mortality of a simple two-dimensional object?
What is the origin of the word, “deadline?”
Most of this information was obtained from various articles discussing the different origins and contexts of when this term was used. All sources will be mentioned in the description.
This podcast, I’ve realized, is nothing but an excuse. Yes, an excuse. An excuse to setup a framework for which I can follow in order to do something I find interesting and important. A method that eases my mind coming to grips with doing something not particularly related to professional endeavours, but those of creativity and hobby, a sort of reason for not having something of priority done at an earlier time. A purpose for procrastination.
How many of you listening are hardcore procrastinators? This should come to no surprise, especially if you are like me pursuing higher level education. Hopefully, you’re not procrastinating right now, and if you are, don’t sweat it. To even fuel that procrastination, there’s a great Ted Talk by co-creator of the Wait But Why Blog, Tim Urban, about the instant gratification monkey grabbing control of your procrastinating brain. He says the following which I still smile about to this day, « Yes, it has always been a dream of mine to HAVE DONE a TED talk in the past ».
We procrastinate often, at least most of us, because we are often inundated with today’s term, deadlines. A deadline, defined by Lexico.com, is « the latest time or date by which something should be completed ». Anyone who has attended school, anyone who has hosted a party (pre-pandemic), anyone who has planned for literally anything, has had to set a deadline. Imagine what life would be like if we, as a civilization of human beings, never set deadlines. Would we even be a civilization, progressing to the evermore advancement of technology and the understanding of reality itself? FYI, I wouldn’t google the latter, unless you want to further procrastinate into the Wikipedia rabbit hole.
The importance of deadlines, in today’s sense, are always overlooked. Deadlines and keeping to them remain one of the most important factors of grading an employee’s performance, or a student’s academic standing. Meeting deadlines can be synonymous with being punctual too, attending or participating in some event by being there at the time and location specified prior to it.
Let’s continue with an experiment. Say the term deadline multiple times. Deadline. DEAD-line. I am emphasizing yes, but asked by Medium Blog creator of Word Origins, « why do we have such a violent word — deadline — for the relatively innocuous concept of time limit? ». I wondered the same thing. Turns out, even in subreddits of etymology (yes, we logophiles do congregate sometimes), there seems to be disputes about the origin of deadline.
In regards to its figurative meaning today, the term deadline originated from printing and newspaper culture. Worldhistories.net denotes the Texan newspaper, The Rotarian, using the term back in 1913 in advice by writer J. C. Burton: « Get your story in early. Don’t wait until the “dead line” when the local room is in chaos. It is liable to be forgotten and abandoned when a big murder story breaks. ». This metaphorical meaning can also be attributed to as far back as 1887, published in another Texan newspaper, the Fort Worth Daily Gazette, about an interstate commerce law, « “A newspaper item says the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Road’s new plan of having train-collectors, whose sole duty is to collect tickets and fares (and passes until the dead line of April 5 [misprint for April 1] is reached) has resulted in a large increase of receipts.” ». Whatever that means.
This wasn’t the first time deadline was adopted by newspaper circles. Grammarphobia also mentions the term was also used as « a guideline marked on the bed of a printing press. ». Essentially, a deadline was sort of like a margin line on your Microsoft Word document. If you were able to write past this margin, printers would not be able to print those words and they would, die, evaporating into the letter realm.
Sadly, however, this idea of death in conjunction with this term has more literal meaning to it. In fact, there is evidence that the term originates from the brutality of the American Civil War. In an article for HistoryNet, lexicographer Christine Ammer discusses various terms with roots to this time period. Interestingly, another dead prefixed word, deadbeat, was also attributed to the civil war, referring to « a soldier who would not carry his weight ». Here, dead meaning absolute, or perfect, can be traced to other expressions like « dead ringer » and « dead giveaway ».
We progress now into more morbid stories, particularly the cloudy origin to the innocuous deadline term we use today. In a well-written article published in Merriam-Webster, they define the original meaning of a deadline first recorded around the 1860s, « a line drawn within or around a prison that a prisoner passes at the risk of being shot ». Even worse, due to the extremely poor conditions of these prisons, not only due to wickedness but to chaotic management of various leadership roles, prisoners were often driven mad with hopelessness, crossing deadlines as the only logical means of reducing hardship. A memorial addressed to President Abraham Lincoln by writer Thomas Prentice Kettell states, « They are fast losing hope and becoming utterly reckless of life. Numbers, crazed by their sufferings, wander about in a state of idiocy. Others deliberately cross the ‘Dead Line’ and are remorselessly shot down.” » .
Note, these were prisons of both the Union and Confederate armies, but usually attributed to one particular Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia. Here, Christine Ammer continues, was « The first written record of the word [which] appeared in an 1864 report by Confederate Colonel D. T. Chandler and was later incorporated into the Congressional Record. It read: “The Federal prisoners are confined within a stockade fifteen feet high. A railing around the inside of the stockade, and about twenty feet from it, constitutes the ‘dead line,’ beyond which prisoners are not allowed to pass.” A prisoner who crossed this line was summarily shot ». Other sources like MentalFloss attribute the term to another Confederate General, Heinrich Hartmann Wirz, written in great length within the Report of the Secretary of War of 1865, who was tried and hung for crimes against the state. Nonetheless, its origin is deeply rooted in the atrocities of war.
We are now here, in the present moment of year 2021. This episode is not to have us reflect on whether this term should be used. But, like I said previously, and why I love doing this podcast, knowing where unique terms originate from inspire an odd sense of purpose. I am here, attempting to make deadlines despite frequent procrastination, because courageous people demanded equality and argued for years about why they deserve it. This tenacity for social justice of past pioneers can be seen today, spotlighting unbalanced systems governing society. I am forever grateful and acknowledge the history that brought about the modern world.
For this communication segment, I would like to talk about something that has plagued me for a long time. Simplified, it’s the common adolescent saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” As a podcast in which language is ruminated on until it cannot be ruminated on any longer, hopefully this segment will speak to you.
Since I was a child, I’ve wrestled with this statement a lot. Logically speaking, this makes sense, as physical violence via blunt force trauma would inevitably break bone. But words literally can’t physically harm you. Therefore, by adapting this mantra as a universal law, one can become incredibly powerful without ever learning to throw or dodge a punch. Think about it.
Surely I’m not the only one who played this inner game with themselves. This game of convincing oneself that the sunken heart feeling emerging after someone with higher perceived physical or social power says something derisive. Most people talk about actual emotions when speaking about the aftermath of ridicule, like sadness and anger. Little attention is paid to the physical manifestations of these emotions. Did you ever get the sunken heart feeling? What about the feeling of your lungs trying to gasp for some oxygen in an obviously open environment? The pins and needles in your legs as you shrink into empty space?
Now of course, rhetoric can be used as an opposite force. Phrases that can bring a smile to your face, written in just the right way. Statements that supplant ideas and connect with other ideas in your head, like you’re the target of inception. Speeches that build the foundation helping you stand on shattered legs, broken by oppressive systems. It’s human nature to remember words with weight. Words are tantalizingly interesting: they are the superposition of imagery and audio.
Perhaps in a future episode I will return to a positive aspect of language. Here, I want to focus on the antonym, its destructive aspect. For years, language has been utilized in almost military precision at every stage of a person’s life. Take learning how to behave from a parent or teacher, to the sly coolness we all personify with a crush, to the professionalism projected in a job interview. Everything we say comes from somewhere, some place in the mind that can list the reasons for why a word or words were used at this particular moment (excluding speech deficiencies of course). We even devise new words to describe things or people, and these words are given weight based on how they are used. Are they used to inspire, or deteriorate?
This is no more blatantly clear in the context of discrimination. Words, created to distinguish and nullify the humanity of others. Humans, from the very beginning, have categorized and isolated groups of people, ordered them on an invisible hierarchy from best to worst. If you’re at the top, well congratulations, you just hit the biological lottery. Otherwise, you were placed, below a group or groups, from the very beginning. How strange is that? How peculiar is it that you have to prove your worth of the life given, moreso than another given the exact same opportunity?
These categories are slowly emerging from the ether. I’ll admit I’ve alway been disinterested in labels we give ourselves based on race, sexuality, or class. In the end, we’re all human beings who are driven by attraction, driven by the pursuit of subjective happiness. Yet, there are words out there that remind us of how forgetful we are of this fact. In relation to today’s metaphor, I will emphasize the struggle we continue to face with racial discrimination.
The case I would like to draw attention to is the incident that occurred at the University of Ottawa in September of 2020. I will tread lightly here because I want to be absolutely clear, this is not a gossip podcast. The specifics of this story will be omitted, because I know, even from the awareness I have of myself, that people tend to focus on names of other people (it’s human nature). I need us to focus on intention, consequences, and the aftermath. Only then, I’ve realized, can opinions be introspected and perhaps changed.
Summarized in a CBC article published well after the incident on Oct 21st, “The University of Ottawa suspended [a] part-time professor last month after learning [they] had used [arguable one of the most destructive word in the English language] during a class discussion”. Because of this, “The university has since reinstated [them] and offered students from [their] art and gender class an alternative course […] Only one has chosen to remain in [their] class”. The professor in question, “explained during the interview that [they] used the word during a discussion about groups who "re-appropriate" or reclaim words and phrases previously used to disparage or oppress.“
In the uOttawa newspaper Fulcrum article written shortly after the incident describes how the situation spiralled, “A leaked email from a University of Ottawa professor apologizing for using a racial slur in class was posted on Twitter and has quickly sparked outrage within the University community.” Basically, a student leaked a screenshot of an email where the professor was apologizing for using a racial slur in class stating “@uOttawa pls teach your professors to not say [arguable the most destructive word in the English language] so i don’t have to THANKS!! [in capitals]” Further, the professor is finally given the opportunity to defend [themself] despite the online firestorm brewing stating, “I explained in a lesson over the major theories in feminist, gender and sexuality studies what queer theory is, […] I clarified that the term ‘Queer’ is an example of ‘subversive resignification,’ that is to say a word which was, first an insult, which has been reappropriated, emptied of its initial meaning and resignified as a powerful marker of identity. I gave two other examples of this subversive resignification: the word ‘cripple’ resignified by Crip theory and [arguable the most destructive word in the English language], resignified by the black community.” Also included in the article, an anonymous student in the class weighs in saying, “”The way [they] handled it, I didn’t really feel like [they] took the time to educate [them]self about why it was wrong. [They] kind of opened it up as a discussion and made it seem like it’s something that can be debated. [They] asked ‘What do you guys think? Should we be allowed to use this word in our discussions?’“There were people, myself included in the Zoom chat function, giving their take on it, and the majority were saying that ‘No you shouldn’t be saying that, it’s not acceptable, and it’s not a discussion open for anybody, it’s a decision for people of colour,’ ” said the student.”
Outrage continues to climb. Other twitter users weigh in. Then, more members of the uOttawa student community. The President of the newly formed University of Ottawa Student Union, submits a very well written open letter to the editor of the Fulcrum. In it, the student president writes “We are shaped by our institutions, conditioned by the dominant culture to see whiteness as the norm. Many of those who defend this in the name of academic freedom lack the humility to acknowledge that at some point, their opinions and feelings should have far less value than those directly and continuously affected by it. Though unwittingly, they have behaved carelessly, discounting the active psychological damage the word continues to create on Black students when uttered.” The Student President educates readers of black history and the present circumstances experienced by the black community. The Student President also speaks about the unwarranted support from faculty about academic freedom, “A lot has been said of the 34 professors who had written the letter that had ignited the media firestorm, and the seemingly overwhelming support they have received. Consider the lack of diversity in the list of nearly 600 teachers and professors who had written a petition of support to the ‘Libertés surveillées’ letter, only .5 per cent of signees were Black (Prosper, 2020)”. Further, the student president highlights key occurrences instigated by racial discrimination before and after this particular incident, one of racially charged “carding” done by uOttawa security personnel, and the other of printers at the University being hacked to print racially charged messages. The whole letter is informative and professional, while also delivering the seriousness of where the university finds itself.
The university was already in the midst of organizing committees to determine its issues in racial discrimination from the carding cases. It now sees itself sending messages shortly after the incident of interest week after week, asking the community to appeal for calm. As an institution, it failed to provide a informative answer to the thousands of students only hearing bits and pieces from social media fronts.
This is just a quick summary of what happened, my own summary, which gave me the information I needed to address conflicting ideas in my head. On the one hand, all things need to be discussed, despite how disgustingly amoral the subject matter is. On the other hand, should words that were created to break the minds of its recipients be uttered without second thought?
That last point is what made me need to discuss this incident in long form, and ultimately is a resounding point of this podcast in general. Words need to be used with military precision. The fact that arguably the most destructive word in the English language was said without hesitation, without potential thought of isolating others, is careless at best. At worst, it’s insensitive to the hundreds of years of people’s lives being subjected to a lower standard of living despite the equal opportunity every person in every group is given, life. And rationalized, this probably goes hand-in-hand with a kind of privilege that people outside of the BIPOC community inherit from the very beginning.
One of the few things I disagreed with about the Student President’s open letter was the following statement, “However, I don’t recommend you needlessly subject your students to unnecessary and potentially damaging conversations.” It is this suggestion that the student president misjudged by assuming that the use of arguably the most destructive word in the English language is always used with the intent to be destructive. Perhaps that professor, like many people outside the BIPOC community, are the real-life embodiment of that saying about Sticks and Stones. For the intent was education, but the delivery was ignorance.
For today’s episode, I’ll be interviewing someone I believe is doing outstanding research, while also a science communicator and advocate for Black In STEM.
He is a conservation biologist and PhD student at the University of Ottawa. His research investigates the effects of climate change and habitat loss on pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies, with the goal of finding better tools to help prevent species extinctions and biodiversity loss. He is passionate about science communication and improving equity, diversity, and inclusion in the spaces he's in, two things that he believes are essential for making science stronger and more accessible. Please welcome the science superstar in the making, Peter Soroye.
And thank you for listening to this episode of the Metaphorigins podcast. As promised, here’s the major update on my end, I have moved to Dublin to start a PhD program. I’ll give you more updates via bits and pieces throughout the season, so stay tuned, and hope you enjoy this new adventure with me. Remember to follow the Instagram page for visual updates as well as to be entered into the draw for the custom, butterfly-printed Metaphorigins shirt which will be given out on the 30th episode. Until then, stay skeptical but curious.