The Enduring Mystery of ‘Jawn,’ Philadelphia’s All-Purpose Noun

Dan Nosowitz writes:

The word “jawn” is unlike any other English word. In fact, according to the experts that I spoke to, it’s unlike any other word in any other language. It is an all-purpose noun, a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people. It is a completely acceptable statement in Philadelphia to ask someone to “remember to bring that jawn to the jawn.”

It is a word without boundaries or limits. Growing up in the suburbs just west of the city, I heard it used mostly to refer to objects and events. In the 2015 movie Creed, a character asks a sandwich maker to “put some onions on that jawn.” But it can get much more complex. It can refer to abstract nouns such as theories; a colleague of Jones routinely refers to “Marxist jawn.” It can also refer to people or groups of people. “Side-jawn,” meaning a someone with whom the speaker cheats on his or her significant other, “is a uniquely Philly thing as far as I can tell,” says Jones. “And not something you want to be.”

via Pocket

I’ve run across other all-purpose, or almost-all-purpose, nouns in slang usage. Just last week, I was reading Tana French’s The Witch Elm, populated with a number of characters speaking vernacular Irish English. After being puzzled by several characters’ use of the word yoke, I finally figured out that it seems to serve a virtually identical purpose to jawn as a generic all-purpose substitute for anything. [Can any speakers of Irish English reading this confirm?]

But, of course, the word with perhaps the most widespread similar role in the vernacular as a generic, at least here in the US, is shit. I’m sure all of you speaking English in the US (and Canada??) have heard virtually all of the examples in the “Jawn” article with “shit” substituted for them:

  • “remember to bring that shit”
  • “put some onions on that shit”
  • “Marxist shit”
  • “Pass me that shit”
  • you can call something you like “the shit”
  • we refer to “my shit” to refer globally to our possessions, our sensibilities or style,  or specifically to our genitalia

Perhaps one difference is that shit stands in only for things. [Again,  Irish English speakers, what about yoke?] The assertion, then, that jawn is “unlike any other word in any other language” may relate to its usage for places, persons or groups of persons as well as things.  Can readers come up with other examples of generic nouns that also do so?

Using brain signals to detect patients’ pain levels

In a paper presented at the International Conference on Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction, the researchers describe a method to quantify pain in patients. To do so, they leverage an emerging neuroimaging technique called functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), in which sensors placed around the head measure oxygenated hemoglobin concentrations that indicate neuron activity.

For their work, the researchers use only a few fNIRS sensors on a patient’s forehead to measure activity in the prefrontal cortex, which plays a major role in pain processing. Using the measured brain signals, the researchers developed personalized machine-learning models to detect patterns of oxygenated hemoglobin levels associated with pain responses. When the sensors are in place, the models can detect whether a patient is experiencing pain with around 87 percent accuracy.

via Big Think

However, even if two subjects are measured as having the same levels of neuronal activity in response to a nociceptive stimulus, there is still no way to compare their subjective experiences of the stimulus. Many other factors that might bear on differences in the subjective experience of the pain might not be reflected in differences in graphical readouts of neuronal activity levels, e.g.:

  • tolerance levels and pain threshold
  • cognitive attributions of cause, intensity, and fungibility of the pain
  • other concurrent factors in the person’s emotional state, e.g. degree of depression
  • factors affecting distraction from or focus on the painful stimulus

R.I.P. fRoots, bible of British folk music

“A big tree has fallen.”

‘For 40 years, the magazine was a guide to Britain’s pulsating underground and a champion of thrilling weirdos. Its closure leaves a chasm in the grassroots music scene…

Take a look at its recent 40th-anniversary edition: it’s like a huge fanzine created by a groovy uncle, occasionally gazing at the mainstream but much happier exploring the margins. Its going out guide is staggeringly broad, revealing a fertile UK festival and gig scene rarely covered by the national press. Features include a dig into Kate Bush’s traditional roots, reports on the qawwali ensembles of Pakistan and a free desert festival in Morocco, plus Scottish folk musician Alasdair Roberts celebrating new artist Burd Ellen’s songs about women. The huge reviews section takes in London’s Cafe Oto, Korean experimentalist Park Jiha and Topic Records’ 80th-anniversary CD. Trendy bells and whistles are few, but it’s a rich treasure trove...’

— Read on The Guardian

I’ve subscribed for most of its forty years. I can’t imagine what my music-listening habits would have been without it.