The logistics of a word

Thomas Tompion

Senior Member
English - England
I've another question arising from a passage in Khaled Hosseini's latest novel: Laila, a little girl, is considering insults which she's heard in the streets of Kabul.

An insult Laila had heard on the street rose to her lips. She didn't really understand it - couldn't quite picture the logistics of it - but the words packed a fierce potency, and she unleashed them now.

Does she mean the logic behind the insult, what it implied? or something else?

I know some people think that logistics have something to do with logic, as opposed to lodging. I suspect the book just needed more careful editing at that point.
 
  • mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    The logistics would include when you would use the insult. When would using such language be applicable? would be the question of someone trying to understand the logistics of such an insult.
     

    Trisia

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    An insult Laila had heard on the street rose to her lips. She didn't really understand it - couldn't quite picture the logistics of it - but the words packed a fierce potency, and she unleasehed them now.

    Does she mean the logic behind the insult, what it implied? or something else?
    It could be a confusion with "logic", yes... (She didn't get the logic behind those words)

    logistics = detailed coordination of a large and complex operation (OED)

    But, Merriam-Webster gives a second meaning - symbolic logic: a science of developing and representing logical principles by means of a formalized system consisting of primitive symbols, combinations of these symbols, axioms, and rules of inference

    I wonder if that's related to the text = the symbolism behind the imprecations?


    I know some people think that logistics have something to do with logic, as opposed to lodging. I suspect the book just needed more careful editing at that point.
    Now this is plain scary, TT. What do you mean by lodging? It may have a meaning that I'm not familiar with...
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Now this is plain scary, TT. What do you mean by lodging? It may have a meaning that I'm not familiar with...
    To stop people falling into the trap, I was pointing out that logistics is derived from the same source as lodging. Look at the Online Etymology Dictionary:
    logistics"art of moving, quartering, and supplying troops," 1879, from Fr. (l'art) logistique "(art) of quartering troops," from M.Fr. logis "lodging," from O.Fr. logeis "shelter for an army, encampment," from loge (see lodge) + Gk. suffix -istikos.

    and has nothing very close to do with logic.
     

    Trisia

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    Now I get what you meant, thanks!

    As an aside, I once asked my French teacher to explain the word for me (it's the same in Romanian, and I never really understood it). I'm still confused :(


    Regarding the topic, I like mjscott's idea. Sounds logical :D
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    But, Merriam-Webster gives a second meaning - symbolic logic: a science of developing and representing logical principles by means of a formalized system consisting of primitive symbols, combinations of these symbols, axioms, and rules of inference
    Trisia, Thank you for this. I've had a look and I agree that Merriam-Webster puts symbolic logic under logistics, but in a different type - not the one it reserves for definitions.

    I don't think we can suppose that the business of reducing the structure of arguments to symbols has much to do with the quartering of armies.
     

    idialegre

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Does the reader ever learn just what the insult is? I think that might clear things up a bit. My guess is that it has nothing to do with logic but with an insult that implies a situation which would be difficult for a little girl to picture in her mind, hence her trouble understanding the logistics. For example, (sorry for the foreign obscenities here)

    ¡Que te folle un burro!
    Lófasz a seggedbe!

    I can't think of too many such insults in English - maybe just, "Shove it up your a**."
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Does the reader ever learn just what the insult is? I think that might clear things up a bit. My guess is that it has nothing to do with logic but with an insult that implies a situation which would be difficult for a little girl to picture in her mind, hence her trouble understanding the logistics. For example, (sorry for the foreign obscenities here)

    ¡Que te folle un burro!
    Lófasz a seggedbe!

    I can't think of too many such insults in English - maybe just, "Shove it up your a**."
    You surmise very astutely, Idialegre. You will understand why I left it out. The insult comes immediately after the passage I quoted:

    ...the words packed a fierce potency, and she unleashed them now.

    "Your mother eats cock!"

    You can see why I thought it must have something to do with the connection between the words (the logic), rather than with the quartering of armies (the logistics).
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    The word logistics with a meaning connected with logic is so rare that I do not recall ever coming across it in real life. Logic is, or at least once was, the subject studied at university not logistics (a clerke there was of Oxenford also that unto logick hadde long ygo. - Chaucer). To me logistics means the practical aspects of organising an army or a scientific expedition: how to get the equipment and food from point A to point B. I think your author chose the word because it sounded more learned, literary or recherché.
    In this I think he was unwise, because nearly all his readers will associate the term with the meaning of organising. Does this man of Afghan origin write in American or does he get his work translated from Pushtu or whatever? In the latter case we may blame the translator for being pretentious, whatever secondary meanings the word has in the dictionary.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The word logistics with a meaning connected with logic is so rare that I do not recall ever coming across it in real life. Logic is, or at least once was, the subject studied at university not logistics (a clerke there was of Oxenford also that unto logick hadde long ygo. - Chaucer). To me logistics means the practical aspects of organising an army or a scientific expedition: how to get the equipment and food from point A to point B. I think your author chose the word because it sounded more learned, literary or recherché.
    In this I think he was unwise, because nearly all his readers will associate the term with the meaning of organising. Does this man of Afghan origin write in American or does he get his work translated from Pushtu or whatever? In the latter case we may blame the translator for being pretentious, whatever secondary meanings the word has in the dictionary.
    Hi Arrius, No, there's no talk of translators, and I'm pretty sure I've read somewhere that he did creative writing courses in the US. He writes in American, and often very well. He has a wonderful narrative gift.

    At the start of your post you talk of a link between logistics and logic. I've been acting on the assumption that there is no such link. Do you have evidence of one?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Since the more logical (sorry!) word here would be "mechanics", I vote with those who suspect this is a translation quirk...

    Loob

    EDIT. Have just seen the further post ruling out translation. In that case I vote for a slip of the pen!
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    An insult Laila had heard on the street rose to her lips. She didn't really understand it - couldn't quite picture the logistics of it - but the words packed a fierce potency, and she unleashed them now.
    Laila didn't understand the logic or real meaning of these swear words but as the mere sound of them was very offensive to the ears used them all the same. (Just as naughty little Spanish boys who don't really know any English might say, "You arrr a son of a beech!" as an obvious Gringo passes by, just to see the effect on him).
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    An insult Laila had heard on the street rose to her lips. She didn't really understand it - couldn't quite picture the logistics of it - but the words packed a fierce potency, and she unleashed them now.
    Laila didn't understand the logic or real meaning of these swear words but as the mere sound of them was very offensive to the ears used them all the same. (Just as naughty little Spanish boys who don't really know any English might say, "You arrr a son of a beech!" as an obvious Gringo passes by, just to see the effect on him).
    Many thanks for this, Arrius. So you agree it's a malapropism, and an editor should have spotted it?
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Yes, T T:a malapropism as in Sheridan's The Rivals, occurs out of a combination of ignorance and pretentiousness, which I think is the case here. I am reminded of a similar incidence in a naughty book in English but published in France which I read as an undergraduate. After an all-night orgy, the masculine pride of the athletic protagonist was described as having "gone limpid". What was meant was simply limp, but the hack must have thought the other word to be more literary, which,however,taken literally, would have meant that the organ in question had been eroded to the point of transparency! Only eyes, pools and suchlike can be said to be limpid.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    "Logistics" is a superbly evocative usage in example provided by Tompion. If logistics can apply to the deployment of troops and armament, why would it not be applicable to this weaponized word? Logistics conjures up a much more vivid picture than any of the traditional and comparatively pusillanimous words we normally bandy about in this forum, such as "usage," "convention," "grammar," etc.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Maybe,bibliolept, but if it takes a group of educated people so long to come up with this explanation, the effectiveness of logistics in this context is sorely impaired. Strategy might have had a more immediate effect, logistics having more to do with the transportation of tins of milk, instant coffee and bully beef than actually attacking.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    Maybe,bibliolept, but if it takes a group of educated people so long to come up with this explanation, the effectiveness of logistics in this context is sorely impaired. Strategy might have had a more immediate effect, logistics having more to do with the transportation of tins of milk, instant coffee and bully beef than actually attacking.

    Perhaps I find myself charmed by this author's choice because I happened to rapidly grasp its meaning and delight in the connotations. I've read this author, and echo the thoughts of other posters who have been impressed with his skill. I cannot fault your logic, Arrius, but neither can I fault the author for daring to use the language in a bold and inventive manner. Yes, he may confuse some of his readers, but I do not consider his choice to constitute a malapropism.
     

    AWordLover

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Hi All,

    I'm not a fan of this word choice (logistics) here, but as a generalization of placement or positioning it makes sense. This choice is probably a little more fun than the word "mechanics" that might be used in a similar situation.

    I would not have guessed that the word should have been logic.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    It is true that non-native writers in English have a different way of looking at the language, from the outside. Conrad used mots justes that were not always familiar to the general reader, and Nabokov played with the language to such an extent that some readers found it difficult to grasp everything he was saying. I have no idea whether this Afghan-American appears to be somewhat abstruse here for the same reason, or if he is worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as these two Greats.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I like "logistics" in this context.

    Of course we have intercontinental ballistic missiles that are launched using "logistics" and so an insult could benefit from "logistics" too.

    But I think the "logistics" has more to do with placing the "cock" on a dinner plate.

    If the girl head someone say, "Your Mother eats asparagus", she would conjure up an image of her mother at the dinner table with a knife an fork eating asparagus.

    The "logistics" of getting a "cock" to the dinner plate is vexing.

    I would assume that the girl would not easily comprehend that the "cock" was still attached to the owner.

    The girl would probably have some problem with the logistics of "go fuck yourself"; a true logistical nightmare in my opinion.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It is true that non-native writers in English have a different way of looking at the language, from the outside. Conrad used mots justes that were not always familiar to the general reader, and Nabokov played with the language to such an extent that some readers found it difficult to grasp everything he was saying. I have no idea whether this Afghan-American appears to be somewhat abstruse here for the same reason, or if he is worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as these two Greats.
    His prose is mostly very clear and spare. He has a narrative gift as striking as Turgenev's. I'd certainly put him in the company of the great writers you mention. I don't think he meant anything particularly smart in using the word; that wouldn't really be like him.
     

    idialegre

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The girl would probably have some problem with the logistics of "go fuck yourself"; a true logistical nightmare in my opinion.
    Oh, you'd be surprised what a few limbering-up exercises can do...

    Whether or not the word is well-chosen, I still believe that the author (or the little girl) was thinking more of the mechanics implied by the insult rather than the logic behind it; for the simple reason that I have rarely, if ever, heard people misuse "logistics" to mean "logic," while I have very often heard the word used (whether rightly or wrongly I leave up to you, I ain't got no dog in that fight) to mean the mechanics, the nuts and bolts, the concrete execution of an action.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Oh, you'd be surprised what a few limbering-up exercises can do...

    Whether or not the word is well-chosen, I still believe that the author (or the little girl) was thinking more of the mechanics implied by the insult rather than the logic behind it; for the simple reason that I have rarely, if ever, heard people misuse "logistics" to mean "logic," while I have very often heard the word used (whether rightly or wrongly I leave up to you, I ain't got no dog in that fight) to mean the mechanics, the nuts and bolts, the concrete execution of an action.
    But the little girl did not know what it meant. She didn't understand it.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    But the little girl did not know what it meant. She didn't understand it.

    Yes, that kills my argument doesn't it?



    I had a Chinese room mate (Shanghainese) in college. His English was good, but he could butcher idioms.

    One day he came back to the dorm from class, and said, "Packard, what does this mean?" And he threw the middle finger salute.

    "It means 'fuck you'", I answered.

    "I'm in a lot of trouble." he replied.

    He knew that the gesture was given when you were angry with someone, but he had no idea what it meant. So he got angry with his History professor...

    His logistics were fine--he delivered the profane gesture with aplomb. It was his understanding that was poor.

    Maybe the same with the little girl?
     

    idialegre

    Senior Member
    USA English
    But the little girl did not know what it meant. She didn't understand it.
    She knew what the words meant, and she knew what the sentence meant in a literal sense. What she did not understand was how such a thing was possible. As the author says, she couldn't "picture" the logistics. If she was concerned with logic, why would she be trying to "picture" it?

    I think we have to agree to disagree...
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    She knew what the words meant, and she knew what the sentence meant in a literal sense. What she did not understand was how such a thing was possible. As the author says, she couldn't "picture" the logistics. If she was concerned with logic, why would she be trying to "picture" it?

    I think we have to agree to disagree...
    I don't think she knew what the word cock meant in the sense used in the idiom; she would have understood it to mean a male chicken. Also I'll need a bit of persuading that her difficulties had anything to do with lodging and feeding an army. But maybe the word logistics is used more loosely than I think it should be. I've met many people who think it's to do with logic. I think you're probably right, Idialegre, about our having to agree to disagree. Thank you for your energetic contributions to our attempt to answer my question.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    You've got it all in my opening post, except the insult itself, which is the following paragraph.
    In that case, I would be inclined to agree with others who have posited that logistics refers to the manner in which one can make possible or can execute activity that the insult describes. (And working from knowledge of what the actual insult is and why she might find it difficult to picture.)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'm sorry, the child didn't understand the "mechanics".

    Logistics, which means the way you move a to b in order to create an environment c is not appropriate here.

    Not a malapropism; but definitely a wrong use of a word....

    Authors can be as creative as you like: sometimes they make mistakes.

    Loob
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I'm sorry, the child didn't understand the "mechanics".

    Logistics, which means the way you move a to b in order to create an environment c is not appropriate here.

    Not a malapropism; but definitely a wrong use of a word....

    Authors can be as creative as you like: sometimes they make mistakes.

    Loob
    Yes, how to get the thing on the plate to eat it. The mechanics.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    There is another anomaly here that none of us has noticed or, at least mentioned so far (or possibly even found worthy of mention): the girl has a Muslim Arab name Laila or Leila which means night, so she is presumably a native Afghan, and she heard this obscenity "on the streets of Kabul", so it must have been in Pushtu or one of the other Afghan languages. Cock can refer to the penis in English, but its literal translation does not mean this in Arabic, or in any other European language I am familiar with, except for maybe polla in Spanish which, however, refers to a young hen, not a cock. I wonder if the writer is substituting an American lexical and cultural context for an Afghan one where the word for cock probably just means rooster and nothing more.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    There is another anomaly here that none of us has noticed or, at least mentioned so far (or possibly even found worthy of mention): the girl has a Muslim Arab name Laila or Leila which means night, so she is presumably a native Afghan, and she heard this obscenity "on the streets of Kabul", so it must have been in Pushtu or one of the other Afghan languages. Cock can refer to the penis in English, but its literal translation does not mean this in Arabic, or in any other European language I am familiar with, except for maybe polla in Spanish which, however, refers to a young hen, not a cock. I wonder if the writer is substituting an American lexical and cultural context for an Afghan one where the word for cock probably just means rooster and nothing more.
    It's an interesting point, Arrius. The author doesn't raise it at all. The reader is given quite an insight into the little girl's sensibility, and I got the very strong impression that she was quite a long way off understanding the physiology of sex, or even the physical differences between the sexes, which is probably why I don't take seriously the talk of mechanics - which hasn't much to do with logistics in its strict sense, anyway. This also makes her final use of the insult particularly ironic, which is the point of the paragraph, as I see it.

    On the other hand, like Conrad, he is writing in a language which is not his native tongue and it does show just occasionally, as it does with Conrad - I felt this was one such occasion, but that it was a trap into which many native speakers, certainly quite a few I know in the UK, would have fallen.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I have never noticed any such slips in Conrad, though I have heard his recorded voice, which had so thick an accent that it would seem inconceivable that he should write such fine English as he did.
    If, indeed, this author emigrated as a boy to the states, he would have had more difficulty than either Conrad the the seafarer or Nabokov the sophisticated cosmopolitan in manipulating such a culturally distinct language. That Pushtu is also Indo-European would not have helped much.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I have never noticed any such slips in Conrad, though I have heard his recorded voice, which had so thick an accent that it would seem inconceivable that he should write such fine English as he did.
    If, indeed, this author emigrated as a boy to the states, he would have had more difficulty than either Conrad the the seafarer or Nabokov the sophisticated cosmopolitan in manipulating such a culturally distinct language. That Pushtu is also Indo-European would not have helped much.
    I can only suggest you try the Kite Runner - your posts suggest you haven't tried him. The only thing I'd warn you about it is that you shouldn't start it when you haven't got time to finish it. Like a lot of people - it's had enormous success in the States as well as in the UK - I found it completely compelling.

    Here's an example of what I mean about Conrad writing like a foreigner:

    I was within a hair’s-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say.

    It's from the end of Heart of Darkness. I bet if you ran a thread here on I was within a hair’s-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement and asked people if it was a normal way of saying this was my very last chance of saying anything, both the AE and BE contributors would soon be suggesting that it must be a translation from another language.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I was within a hair’s-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say.

    You're right. Never noticed it. Sounds slightly better than an automatic translation on Google. Shall investigate the Kite Runner, whatever that is. Thank you Thomas.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I am beginning to think that the writer got to this point:

    An insult Laila had heard on the street rose to her lips. She didn't really understand it - couldn't quite picture the ...

    And then fished around in his mind for a word that would work, and "mechanics" came to mind. He needed a word like that for the sentence structure and that was what he came up with.

    He probably did not count on TT deciding to pounce on this, or he would have given the sentence more thought.

    (From now on I will think of all the TT's out there and write with more precision.)
     
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