Speaking in a Foreign Language Can Impact Your Moral Judgment

"The Good Place," NBC
"The Good Place," NBC

Ethical integrity means practicing consistent values from one situation to the next—at least, that's what you might strive for if you're someone who prides yourself on having a strong moral compass. But a new study suggests that being consistent with our morals is even more complicated than you may think it is. As Quartz reports, personal morality can be influenced by something as seemingly arbitrary as the language you're using.

Researchers from the University of Chicago published their findings in the journal Cognition. They set out to see if the imagery our brains produce changes depending on whether we're communicating in our native language or a foreign one, and whether or not these changes influence the moral decisions we make. They began by discussing sensory experiences with 350 native English speakers. They found that the pictures in the subjects' heads weren't as vivid when hearing scenes described in Spanish as they were when conversing in English.

Next, researchers met with 300 native Mandarin speakers to see how accurate their mental imagery was when speaking in a foreign language, in this case English. Volunteers were given a series of words (“pen,” “carrot,” and “mushroom,” for example) and asked which one didn't belong based on categories like shape or substance. To ace the test, subjects needed to pull up accurate pictures of the items in their minds. They were more likely to do so when speaking in Mandarin and more likely to make a mistake when using a secondary tongue.

So how does morality fit into this? Previous studies have shown that we're less likely to make utilitarian decisions (decisions that maximize life and happiness, even if others must die or suffer first) when speaking in our first language. The researchers thought this might be related to how language affects mental imagery.

For their final test, they asked 700 native German speakers who also spoke English to work out the moral problem of killing one person to save five lives. Subjects who visualized the sacrifice most vividly, mostly those speaking in German, were less likely to say they would kill someone to save five others. But when they spoke in English, and therefore couldn't see the scene as clearly, they were more likely to go the utilitarian route.

Morality is already a notoriously sticky subject, and these new findings don't make things any clearer. Just remember if you ever come across the trolley problem in real life, the language you're using could mean life or death.

[h/t Quartz]

Why Do We Call the NCAA Basketball Tournament 'March Madness'?

A euphoric Villanova men's basketball team brandishes the championship trophy after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in 2018's NCAA tournament.
A euphoric Villanova men's basketball team brandishes the championship trophy after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in 2018's NCAA tournament.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Beginning on March 19, the nation’s 68 best college basketball teams will battle for the chance to take home the NCAA championship trophy after a high-energy, single-elimination tournament aptly nicknamed “March Madness.” While the winner might not always come from an unlikely place—California, for example, has a total of 15 championships across four schools, and North Carolina has an equally impressive 13—the nickname itself definitely did.

Back in March 1939, an Illinois High School Association (IHSA) administrator and basketball coach named Henry V. Porter penned an article titled “March Madness” for the association’s magazine. In it, he discussed the excitement surrounding the annual statewide basketball tournament, suggesting that a “little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.” As TIME points out, 1939 also happened to be the first year that the NCAA held a championship game, which the University of Oregon won against The Ohio State University.

Porter’s enthusiasm for youth basketball was so great that he followed up his article with a 1942 poem called “Basketball Ides of March,” which included the line “A sharp-shooting mite is king tonight / The Madness of March is running.” The catchy, alliterative nickname caught on throughout the state, and Illinoisans continued to use it without interference for the next 40 years.

According to Slate, it was CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger who first co-opted the moniker for college basketball while covering the NCAA tournament in 1982. By the end of the decade, IHSA had submitted a trademark application for “March Madness,” and the organization butted heads with an NCAA partner over its use of the name on a computer game in 1996. To prevent further legal conflicts, they formed the March Madness Athletic Association and decided the IHSA could use “March Madness” for high school sports, and the NCAA could use it on the collegiate level.

While Porter is usually credited with coining the phrase, Dictionary.com reports the idea of “March Madness” had been around for centuries before he made it all about hoops.

The earliest known record of the aphorism “mad as a March hare,” which refers to hares’ noticeable aggression during breeding season, is in some versions of Chaucer’s 14th-century magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales. The phrase and its derivatives, including “March mad” and “March madness,” appeared intermittently through the next several centuries; perhaps the most memorable of these mentions was Lewis Carroll’s character, the March Hare, in his 1865 book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (The Hatter was also mad, but for a different reason.)

By the time Porter printed it in 1939, the phrase was no longer so closely associated with hares—though basketball players, of course, can jump just as well.

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25 Irish Slang Terms You Should Know

Lukas Bischoff/ iStock via Getty Images Plus
Lukas Bischoff/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

People in Ireland speak English, but not exactly the "Queen’s English." With a little help from the Gaelic language—called Irish—the populace of the Emerald Isle have devised their very own collection of weird and wonderful words and phrases. Here are a few Irish colloquialisms to help you understand the next person you meet from Derry, Dublin, or Donegal.

1. Craic

Pronounced “rack,” this is a big one, and it means general banter or fun. Originally it was spelled crack when it was used by Ulster Scots. The Gaelic spelling of the word was not widely used in Ireland until it was popularized as the catchphrase in the Irish-language TV show SBB ina Shuí starting in the 1970s.

2. Wee

This term is used to describe something or someone who is very small.

3. Wean

Pronounced "wayne," this word means child.

4. Lethal or Leefs

These terms are mainly used northwestern Ireland, and both mean “great.” And leefs is also short for lethal.

5. Quare

Pronounced "kware,” this odd-looking word can be used in a variety of ways to mean great, very, and terrific.

6. Feck off

Quite possibly Ireland’s greatest linguistic achievement, this phrase is the perfect way to curse without technically cursing. Replace the e with a u, and you have what this slang term means.

7. Dooter

A short, or wee (see above), walk.

8. Saunter

This term refers to a slightly brisker walk that’s almost a strut, but with less self-confidence.

9. Aye and Naw

You can say aye for yes and naw for no.

10. Yes

While it might be confusing, yes means hello.

11. Lashing

This term means it’s raining heavily. For example, if it’s lashing rain, you may want to just stay inside.

12. Slag

This word is used as a verb and it means to make a joke at someone else’s expense

13. Wired to the moon

You know that feeling you get when you’ve enjoyed a fairly big Tuesday night in a club, and then stumble into work the next morning after downing six espresso shots at the nearest Starbucks? That’s what some might call being wired to the moon.

14. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

When it comes to blasphemy, there are no half measures in Ireland. As a historically religious country, blasphemy is relatively frowned upon, so when an Irish person deems it absolutely necessary to take the Lord’s name in vain, they use the entire holy family.

15. Cat

You can use this word to say something is bad or awful. According to Ireland Calling it’s most likely short for the phrase “cat on a melodeon.” A melodeon is a small organ, so we can imagine a feline walking across one would not sound that great.

16. Brock

You can also use this word to describe something that’s bad.

17. Eejit

According to Claddagh Design, you can use this term to describe someone as an idiot, but in an affectionate sort of way.

18.While man/woman

Again, another term to describe a person who isn’t so bright.

19. Melter

Yet another way to describe a person who is a bit of an idiot, or at least very annoying.

20. Haven’t a baldy notion

If you’re looking for a new way to say “I have no idea,” try this phrase on for size.

21. Wind your neck in

The perfect way to take someone who is overly arrogant down a peg or two? Tell them to wind their neck in. It basically means “be quiet!”

22. Yonks

This means a long time.

23. Bake

This is a word for face.

24. Juke

A quick, or wee, look.

25. All lured

Another way to say you’re feeling delighted.