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10 Pointy Pieces of Slayer Slang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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The Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS) universe, or the Buffyverse, has always been about more than dusting vampires and banishing demons. It's also been about language. Slang, neologisms, new word forms. English professor Michael Adams explores them all and more in Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon. Here we put a stake in 10 of our favorites on the 20th anniversary of the show's debut.

1. BUFFY

The Buffmyster. The Buffster. The Buffinator. Whatever you call her, she's the Chosen One. She also has a name that was popular in the 1960s and ‘70s, perhaps because of Buffy Sainte-Marie—a Native Canadian singer prominent at the time—or the character Buffy on the sitcom Family Affair, which ran from 1966 to 1971.

In the movie Bring It On, the name refers to a stereotypical cheerleader: "Can we beat these Buffys down so I can go home?" It’s not clear if this refers to Buffy’s short stint as a cheerleader on the show although there is a Bring It On-BTVS connection: Three actors in the film—Eliza Dushku, Clare Kramer, and Nicole Bilderback—were also on Buffy as, respectively, Faith, Glory, and unnamed lackey of mean girl Cordelia Chase.

2. POINTY

"Punishing yourself like this is pointless," Giles says. "It's entirely pointy," Buffy responds. Pointy here means purposeful and meaningful—the opposite of pointless. It's also the nickname of Buffy's favorite vampire-slaying stake, Mr. Pointy.

3. SLAYAGE

The slaying of vampires, demons, or any otherworldly baddies. Adding the suffix -age is common in Buffyspeak, according to Adams. There’s saveage, as in "world saveage," and kissage, a term for kissing. Kissage was actually first used by Rudyard Kipling in 1886.

4. SITCH

Shortening or truncation is also a common technique. "What's the sitch?" Buffy asks. In other words, “What’s the situation?” According to show writer and linguist Jane Espenson, Buffy creator Joss Whedon has used "sitch" since at least his college days. “Sitch me” translates as “Bring me up to date on the situation.”

5. SCOOBY GANG

Also known as the Slayerettes and the Scoobies, the Scooby Gang's core members are Buffy, watcher/librarian Giles, witch Willow, and wisecracking everyman Xander. The gang also includes a rotating cast of characters such as Cordelia, vampire-with-a-soul Angel, and former demon Anya. Scooby Gang is named after the "meddling kids" from the cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! A 2002 film version starred Buffy's Sarah Michelle Gellar as Daphne.

6. FIVE BY FIVE

“As long as you don't go scratching at me or humping my leg,” rogue slayer Faith tells sometime-werewolf Oz, “we're five-by-five, you know?" This term meaning satisfied or good originally referred to the “the clarity of a radio signal,” Adams writes, “as measured according to five-point scales.” It originated in the 1940s as U.S. military slang.

Five by five made a recent reappearance in the Gilmore Girls revival, written by professed Buffy-holic Amy Sherman Palladino. "I’m five by five,” Rory says. “I was watching a Buffy marathon and some things stick.”

7. WIGGINS

"That place just gives me the wiggins," Buffy says. The wiggins is a state of fear, perhaps like an agitated version of “the creeps.” The term comes from 1950s slang wig out, to get excited or upset.

8. OVERSHARE

In the Buffy episode "Halloween," the slayer notes that Angel is “not exactly one to overshare." While not coined by the BTVS writers, this term for excessively sharing personal information may have been popularized by the show. Visual Thesaurus says an early usage is from 1996 while this episode of Buffy aired in 1997.

9. EDGE GIRL

"You really got some quality rage going. Really gives you an edge,” Faith tells Buffy. "Edge Girl," Buffy responds. "Just what I always wanted to be." Edge Girl is a play on It girl, a stylish and well-known young woman. The term "It girl" was coined by British writer Elinor Glyn in reference to silent film star Clara Bow, while “it” meaning sex appeal originated with Rudyard Kipling.

10. SCULLY

"I cannot believe that you of all people are trying to Scully me," Buffy says to Giles. Scully, of course, refers to skeptical Agent Dana Scully of The X-Files.

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8 Professional Translators Choose Their Favorite 'Untranslatable' Words
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Readers tend to think of a translated novel as having just one author. While that’s technically true, each work contains two voices: that of the author and the translator. Translators must ensure that their interpretation remains faithful to the style and intent of the author, but this doesn't mean that nothing is added in the process. Gabriel García Márquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, once famously said that the English version of his novel was, in some ways, better than his original work in Spanish.

“A good translation is itself a work of art,” translator Nicky Harman writes. Put differently, translator Daniel Hahn believes translation is literally impossible. “I don’t just mean it’s really, really difficult, but really, it’s not actually possible,” he says. “There’s not a single word in any of the languages I translate that can map perfectly onto a word in English. So it’s always interpretative, approximate, creative.”

In a show of appreciation for this challenging craft, the Man Booker International Prize was created to annually recognize one outstanding work of literature that has been translated from its original language into English and published in the UK. Ahead of the winner being announced on May 22, the translators of eight Man Booker International Prize nominees have shared their favorite "untranslatable" words from the original language of the novels they translated into English.

1. BREF

Sam Taylor, who translated The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet from French to English, said the best definition of bref is “Well, you get the idea.” It’s typically used to punctuate the end of a long, rambling speech, and is sometimes used for comedic effect. “It’s such a concise (and intrinsically sardonic) way of cutting a long story short,” Taylor says.

2. SANTIGUADORA

Unsatisfied with any of the English words at their disposal, translators Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff left this word in Spanish in Die, My Love, a psychological novel by Ariana Harwicz. The word, which describes a female healer who uses prayer to break hexes and cure ailments, was explained in the text itself. The translated version reads: “If only there were santiguadoras living in these parts, those village women who for a fee will pray away your guy’s indigestion and your toddler’s tantrums, simple as that.”

3. HELLHÖRIG

The German word Hellhörig "literally means 'bright-hearing' and is used, for example, to describe walls so thin you can hear every noise in the next room," says Simon Pare, who translated The Flying Mountain, a novel by Christoph Ransmayr. Pare notes that while English equivalents like "paper-thin" and “flimsy” carry the same negative connotation, they don’t have the same poetic quality that hellhörig has. "'The walls have ears,' while expressive, is not the same thing,” Pare laments.

4. VORSTELLUNG

Vorstellung (another German word) can be defined as an idea or notion, but when its etymology is broken down, it suddenly doesn’t seem so simple. It stems from the verb vorstellen, meaning “to place in front of—in this case, in front of the mind’s eye,” according to Susan Bernofsky, who translated Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. “The Vorstellung is the object of that act of mental conjuring-up," Bernofsky adds. (Fun fact: All nouns are capitalized in German.)

5. 눈치 (NUNCH'I)

Literally translating to “eye measure,” the Korean word nunch’i describes “an awareness of how those around you are currently feeling, plus their general character, and therefore the appropriate response,” says Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s The White Book. Korean culture stresses the importance of harmony, and thus it’s important to avoid doing or saying anything that could hurt another person’s pride, according to CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.

6. ON

Anyone who has survived French 101 has seen this word, but it’s a difficult concept to fully grasp. It’s also one that crops up regularly in novels, making it “the greatest headache for a translator,” according to Frank Wynne, who translated Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes. On is often translated as “one” (as in “one shouldn’t ask such questions”), but in general conversation it can come off as “preposterously disdainful,” Wynne notes. Furthermore, the word is used in different ways to express very different things in French, and can be taken to mean “we,” “people,” “they,” and more, according to French Today.

7. TERTULIA

Store this one away for your next cocktail party. The Spanish word tertulia can be defined as “an enjoyable conversation about political or literary topics at a social gathering,” according to Camilo A. Ramirez, who translated Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina. Although tertulia is tricky to translate, it's one of Ramirez's favorite Spanish words because it invokes a specific atmosphere and paints a scene in the reader’s mind. For instance, the first chapter of The Hobbit, “An Unexpected Party,” becomes “Una Tertulia Inesperada” when translated into Spanish.

8. PAN/PANI

Like the French on, the Polish words pan (an honorific address for men) and pani (an address for women) are challenging to explain in English. While many European languages have both a formal and informal “you,” pan and pani are a different animal. “[It's] believed to derive from the days of a Polish noble class called the szlachta—another tradition unique to Poland,” says Jennifer Croft, who translated Flights by Olga Tokarczuk into English. This form of address was originally used for Polish gentry and was often contrasted with the word cham, meaning peasants, according to Culture.pl, a Polish culture site. Now, it’s used to address all people, except for children or friends.

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What Is Foreign Accent Syndrome?
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One night in 2016, Michelle Myers—an Arizona mom with a history of migraines—went to sleep with a splitting headache. When she awoke, her speech was marked with what sounded like an British accent, despite having never left the U.S. Myers is one of about 100 people worldwide who have been diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), a condition in which people spontaneously speak with a non-native accent.

In most cases, FAS occurs following a head injury or stroke that damages parts of the brain associated with speech. A number of recent incidences of FAS have been well documented: A Tasmanian woman named Leanne Rowe began speaking with a French-sounding accent after recovering from a serious car accident, while Kath Lockett, a British woman, underwent treatment for a brain tumor and ended up speaking with an accent that sounds somewhere between French and Italian.

The first case of the then-unnamed syndrome was reported in 1907 when a Paris-born-and-raised man who suffered a brain hemorrhage woke up speaking with an Alsatian accent. During World War II, neurologist Georg Herman Monrad-Krohn compiled the first comprehensive case study of the syndrome in a Norwegian woman named Astrid L., who had been hit on the head with shrapnel and subsequently spoke with a pronounced German-sounding accent. Monrad-Krohn called her speech disorder dysprosody: her choice of words and sentence construction, and even her singing ability, were all normal, but her intonation, pronunciation, and stress on syllables (known as prosody) had changed.

In a 1982 paper, neurolinguist Harry Whitaker coined the term "foreign accent syndrome" for acquired accent deviation after a brain injury. Based on Monrad-Kohn's and other case studies, Whitaker suggested four criteria for diagnosing FAS [PDF]:

"The accent is considered by the patient, by acquaintances, and by the investigator to sound foreign.
It is unlike the patient’s native dialect before the cerebral insult.
It is clearly related to central nervous system damage (as opposed to a hysteric reaction, if such exist).
There is no evidence in the patient’s background of being a speaker of a foreign language (i.e., this is not like cases of polyglot aphasia)."

Not every person with FAS meets all four criteria. In the last decade, researchers have also found patients with psychogenic FAS, which likely stems from psychological conditions such as schizophrenia rather than a physical brain injury. This form comprises fewer than 10 percent of known FAS cases and is usually temporary, whereas neurogenic FAS is typically permanent.

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING?

While scientists are not sure why certain brain injuries or psychiatric problems give rise to FAS, they believe that people with FAS are not actually speaking in a foreign accent. Instead, their neurological damage impairs their ability to make subtle muscle movements in the jaw, tongue, lips, and larynx, which results in pronunciation that mimics the sound of a recognizable accent.

"Vowels are particularly susceptible: Which vowel you say depends on where your tongue is in your mouth," Lyndsey Nickels, a professor of cognitive science at Australia's Macquarie University, wrote in The Conversation. "There may be too much or too little muscle tension and therefore they may 'undershoot' or 'overshoot' their target. This leads to the vowels sounding different, and sometimes they may sound like a different accent."

In Foreign Accent Syndromes: The Stories People Have to Tell, authors Nick Miller and Jack Ryalls suggest that FAS could be one stage in a multi-phase recovery from a more severe speech disorder, such as aphasia—an inability to speak or understand speech that results from brain damage.

People with FAS also show wide variability in their ability to pronounce sounds, choose words, or stress the right syllables. The accent can be strong or mild. Different listeners may hear different accents from the speaker with FAS (Lockett has said people have asked her if she's Polish, Russian, or French).

According to Miller and Ryalls, few studies have been published about speech therapy for treating FAS, and there's no real evidence that speech therapy makes a difference for people with the syndrome. More research is needed to determine if advanced techniques like electromagnetic articulography—visual feedback showing tiny movements of the tongue—could help those with FAS regain their original speaking manner.

Today, one of the pressing questions for neurologists is understanding how the brain recovers after injury. For that purpose, Miller and Ryalls write that "FAS offers a fascinating and potentially fruitful forum for gaining greater insights into understanding the human brain and the speech processes that define our species."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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