“Shade”: Good or Bad?

I found the expression “to throw shade” in two articles I read yesterday:

  1. US Magazine: Oh, snap! Lady Gaga threw shade at Madonna during an interview with Beats 1 Radio on Thursday, October 20.
  2. Rolling Stone (Oct 6 2016) Interview with Matt Healy of the 1975’s where he talks about Taylor Swift: “I said in one interview that we didn’t date, and some dick like Perez Hilton took it out of context and morphed it so it looked like I was throwing shade.”

Until I read those, I had never heard of the expression “to throw shade”. So to improve my slang, I looked them up in Urban Dictionary —  today’s top definition is:

“to throw shade”: to talk trash about a friend or acquaintance, to publicly denounce or disrespect.

Poor shade, why is shade considered a bad thing in these contexts?  For me, shade has positive images.  In English I think of shade as comforting relief from a burning sun.  And in Japanese, it has the impression of thankfulness.

When thanking my dear friend today for all the help she gave to a project we were working on, the wonderful, complimentary Japanese expression of “お陰様で...”[okagesama de] came to my mind. “Okagesama de” means “honorable shading one” which is what one says in Japanese to mean — “thanks to all your good graces …”.  In that expression, shade/shadow (“kage”) is seen as the kind efforts of another person.  It original meaning was the shadow (or shade) of the spirits or buddhas. But nowadays it simply means the graces (shade) of those who help you.

Questions to readers: Do any of you know where the English slang  of “to throw shade” came from or why “shade” got such a bad rap? What are your impressions of “shade”?

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I really enjoy body art.  See my post here about asking others about their tattoos. However, though I love tasteful or even creative tattoos, some tattoos can be embarrassingly ridiculous. One risky tattoo a person can get, is one in a language they can not read.

Having graduated from a Japanese university, I can read most of the Japanese and Chinese tattoos I see. When I served as a medical provider at the National Navy Medical Center in Washington D.C, I got to see a lot of sailors and marines who had returned from serving in the Pacific.  While doing an exam on one such sailor, I was surprised to see a Japanese tattoo on his arm that looked like this:


I asked him, “Why did you get that tattoo?” and he proudly replied: “One night in Japan, I picked up this Japanese babe who helped me get this tattoo which says something like ‘Brave and Strong'”.

But actually, the katakana letters on his forearm read “sukebe”, which actually means “pervert” or “lecher”.  I didn’t tell him the real meaning, but maybe I should have.  What do you think?  Would you have told him?

As an interesting linguist side note: When I was a kid, my dad used the word “skivvies” for “underwear”.  My father served in the Navy during WWII and it is apparently navy slang. Some sources claim this nautical term came into English in the late 1800s from the word “sukebe” which American and British soldiers heard as a humorous taunt when they sauntered through prostitute districts during their shore time in Japan.  These sailors then mispronounced the word when they brought it into English calling it “skibby” which came to mean “a woman of ill repute” or “a low-class woman”.  In the 1930s the word “sukebe” also became “skivvies” — Navy slang for underwear due to similar associations.

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Poetry: Faith Shearin

Servants by Faith Shearin

In college I read about Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton
and I thought of their great minds and their long dresses
and their gilded friendships which involved tea

in the library or on the lawn. I thought of the places
they traveled and the weight of their trunks
and all the ways their marriages did or did not

please them. I thought of the dogs that followed
at their heels and the rooms and gardens they
decorated and the beaches where they

carried umbrellas. But I never once thought of
their servants. I didn’t think of the cook who
woke up to make the fires of morning or the maids

who stood over a pot of hot soap, stirring the day.
I did not think of how someone dressed them
and scrubbed their floors, how someone

brought their dinner on a tray. It was years before
I knew they had them at all: invisible, unremembered,
people who gave their lives to drudgery. Now I

can barely write or finish a book for all the housework
and errands, now I think of them: knocking dust
from the curtains, carrying the rugs outside

each spring so they could beat them with a broom.

See more poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

My Impressions

The poem speaks for itself.  But it is this sort of poetry — clear, direct but deep — that I love.

About Faith Shearin:

  • I am not sure when Faith was born (? 1970s) and she has been variously reported to have lived in a cabin on top of a mountain in West Virginia with her husband, her daughter, and an opinionated dachshund and in Baltimore.
  • This poem, “Servants”, is from Faith Shearin’s book Telling the Bees. © Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2015.  Found on The Writer’s Almanac.
  • another poem: “Buried” and author’s statement.
  • Poetry Foundation: three more poems


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Is Japan a “Religious Country”?

I have written many posts discussing the limits of the word “religion”. Both religious folks and religion-free folks often buy into the illusion that “religion” is an easily recognizable thing. They forget that the word is an invented abstraction with lots of agendas packed inside.

I contend that the various activities that we variously label as “religion” differ from each other enough to blind us to what those individuals or groups are actually doing and how those practitioners may have more in common with non-religious practitioners is very important ways.

This confusion stems from a more important human cognitive defect called “reification” — where an abstract word is confused to be a word pointing at actual concrete thing. Reification fallacy also reaches into our mistaken views about politics, sex, identity and self – to mention a few.

Today I’d like to share an article that again illustrate what I am trying to say about religion:

Religion without belief by Chris Kavanagh

I lived several years in Japan and my experiences agrees the author’s experiences and the states he quotes showing that most Japanese don’t view themselves as having religious affiliations or firm sectarian beliefs, but that about 40% of Japanese hold supernatural beliefs. Yet even among those who do not hold supernatural beliefs, many still participate in ostensibly religious rituals.

Chris states: “… the United States, where 48.8 per cent reported that God is very important to their life, only 6.1 per cent chose this option in Japan. Strong beliefs, I argue, are not an essential feature of religion in Japan. “

So is Japan a religious country or not? The problem is the term “religion”. Chris’ article explores this well.

Chris then takes a stab at defining religion as “concepts and traditions that not only cluster around supernatural beliefs, but also practices, like rituals and festivals”. Like Chris, I am willing to use the term and took my stab at a possible definition here. But whatever definition we use as an expedient heuristic, we need to understand its limitations. Chris’ article points out those limitations well.

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Jarring Jazz and Insight

russian-jazz-quartedLast night, my dearest friend and I went to a collaborative Jazz and Poetry performance dedicated to persecution of writers and artists. The Jazz, by a Russian quartet, was incredibly abstract and experimental. Both of us walked out with a shared impression:

The music was painful in the beginning, but we both felt ourselves relax during the performance and let the music bring forth interesting feelings, emotions and sensations that we could not have experienced if we hadn’t relaxed. We both recognized that initial temptation to tense up against the unfamiliar which can shut down much insight.  And we both speculated on how this can parallel what we sometimes do this with people in our lives.

Mind you, neither of us are now tempted to a regular diet of this sort of jazz, but the evening proved delightful, I’d go hear it again, sometime.

Readers: Please share any similar experiences you have had.

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India: Cows and Dung

In my 20s, I made two trips to India, and during both, feces left bold impressions: human and cow. These memories were awakened the other day when I read an article in Open called “Cow Dung Capitalism“. Open is an Indian media online and print magazine. The author appears to be an Indian of Tibetan descent: Lhendup Bhutia.know-your-shitBelow are a few quick stories of mine related to India and feces:

Dung: an etymology

Dung: used many for other animals feces, but not human feces. Odd how we always try to view ourselves as exceptional, isn’t it? Even when it comes to our shit. Looking at my chart on The Evolution of English, you can see that the Norse language (northern germanic) helped form English, and after these conquers left the English Isle, they left their dynge (a heap of manure).

Dung as Fuel

Dried cow dung, unlike wood, is abundant in India and burns slowly at a low temperature. In Indian villages, meals are cooked over dung fires and dishes (like lentils) depend on this sort of flame. If all Indians used wood, their deforestation problem would only accelerate.

Dung as Sacred

Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and when I was there 20 years ago, they still wandered many city streets. On one of those days, I was walking through a crowded street buying some groceries when a cow snuck up behind me and started to eat some of the vegetables sticking out of my hand bag. I reeled around with a karate round house kick to the cows head — I was hungry and tired and in a bad mood. The crowd did not understand and started to yell and me with a few hitting me. I escaped basically unharmed and never kicked a holy cow again.

In the villages where I spent time cow dung was mixed with water and used to paint the mud homes to purify and beautify them. Cow urine was used on floors as a sacred disinfectant.

Dung as Cosmetics and Medicine

In Hindu scriptures, the 5 products of cows. ‘panchgavya’, are considered as having great benefits to human health. And the Open magazine article tells how these days, many companies are taking advantage of this religious belief, selling cow dung and urine.

Unadulterated cow urine and dung have always been procured from cow-shelters by the traditional for use at home and in temple pujas. What’s recent is the array of therapeutic and beauty products flooding the market that use these as ingredients. There are face packs, bath scrubbers, mosquito coils and incense sticks that contain cow dung. There are creams, cough syrups, body oils, health tonics, weight-loss tonics, and floor disinfectants that contain distilled cow urine. You name it, they have it. And the names of gau mutra or gau arka (cow urine) or cow dung are not hidden away in long lists of fine print on the packages.

Shitting in Public

One of my biggest impressions is how many times I found people shitting to the side of the road or on the beach.  Out of amazement, back before digital photography,  I took a whole roll of photos of this phenomena only to be told that roll did not develop when I tried to pick it up at the photo store.  I guess many Indians were ashamed of the fact too.

Please consider reading Bhutia’s article — it is a fine read. And this post belongs to my other scatalogical babblings if you are interested.

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Scatological Posts

I’ve come to realize that many of my posts are scatological in nature.  I’ll let readers figure out what that implies.  Here is an index of those posts:

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