How do you say 'town hall meeting' in Mandarin?

After Obama's session with Chinese students, the Monitor's language columnist considers the nuances of town meetings, town-hall meetings, and town-hall-style meetings.

By

President Obama's "town hall style" meeting with a group of students in Shanghai, China, on his recent Asia trip, has me thinking about public discussions and the public spaces in which they take place. And by the way, what's with "town hall style" meeting?

The ancient Greeks' ideal polis, or city-state, was small: no more people than could gather within the sound of one man's voice. The idea was that there would be one conversation.

What would the ancients have thought of public meetings commented on in real time, and to a certain extent subverted, by bloggers, tweeters, and texters? ("OMG! U hear that?!") It might have been enough to make Plato retreat to his cave.

Recommended: Terry Bradshaw: 10 quotes from the Super Bowl-winning quarterback

The concept of one conversation to which everyone is a party lives on in the tradition of town meetings across New England. Plato and Socrates would probably get the gist of these, even without ancient Greek as one of the options on the translation headset menu. "Town meeting" is in this sense both an event and an entity – "Town meeting voted last month to repave Main Street."

There's town hall, the place. If you're driving the back roads of small-town New England, to see the town hall is to know you have arrived. The town hall on the village green communicates a sense of place that is the antithesis of Gertrude Stein's aperçu about the place where "there's no there there," originally a reference to Oakland, Calif.

But in many other places around the country, places with city halls and what we remember from ninth-grade civics class as "strong mayor" governments, "town hall" figures in the name of buildings housing not government functions but other public activities. They are often theaters and music halls. But as I've clicked around the Web, I see that many "town halls" are venues for lectures, debates, book talks, and such. They're not mere entertainment venues, in other words; they're temples of a sort of civic discourse that runs parallel to, and presumably informs, official channels.

In New England, civic purpose has sometimes overlapped with ecclesiastical use. Boston's Old South Meeting House was a house of worship. But during the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, it was often the site of gatherings too large for Faneuil Hall, then Boston's official "town hall."

The most famous of these, the meeting on Dec. 16, 1773, that launched the Boston Tea Party, drew more than 5,000 colonists. That number bears an interesting relationship to Plato's ideal number of citizens for a polis: 5,040.

The concept of "town hall meeting," a large gathering where citizens can ask questions of a political candidate, is traced to President Jimmy Carter, who ran for office in 1976 on promises to restore confidence in government on the part of a public weary of the excesses of Watergate. Last summer many members of Congress held "town hall meetings" to discuss pending healthcare legislation; some ended up wishing they hadn't.

Critical distinction: Town meetings make decisions. Town hall meetings are talking shops. This brings us to town-hall-style meetings. They're not official meetings in the first place. So why is the qualifier ("style") even needed? Double-hyphen phrases tend to lumber awkwardly through a sentence like a tandem-trailer truck rumbling through a picturesque village. It's the kind of thing that residents ask to have banned – at a town meeting.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

eZ debug

Clear cache:

Quick settings:

Timing: Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Script start
Timing: Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Module start 'content'
Warning: eZDebug::accumulatorStop Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Accumulator 'Search' does not exist, run eZDebug::accumulatorStart first
Warning: eZDebug::accumulatorStop Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Accumulator 'Search' does not exist, run eZDebug::accumulatorStart first
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Timing: Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Module end 'content'
Timing: Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Before parse_includes
Strict: PHP: E_STRICT Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Non-static method MugoViewExtras::get_view_extras() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/mugo_view_extras/autoloads/template_operators.php on line 37
Warning: eZTemplate:def @ extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/extra/archive.tpl:21[1] Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
Variable 'view_extra_node' is already defined.
Timing: Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
After parse_includes
Timing: Jul 09 2014 06:28:24
End

Timing points:

CheckpointElapsedRel. ElapsedMemoryRel. Memory
Script start 0.0000 sec0.0128 sec 1,285.7734 KB1,162.0859 KB
Module start 'content' 0.0128 sec2.2779 sec 2,447.8594 KB11,018.1875 KB
Module end 'content' 2.2906 sec0.0163 sec 13,466.0469 KB387.5000 KB
Before parse_includes 2.3069 sec0.0509 sec 13,853.5469 KB285.3516 KB
After parse_includes 2.3579 sec0.0010 sec 14,138.8984 KB-178.8047 KB
End 2.3588 sec  13,960.0938 KB 
Total runtime:2.3660 sec
Peak memory usage:16,382.4297 KB

Time accumulators:

 Accumulator Elapsed Percent Count Average
ini_load
Load cache0.0062 sec0.2600%360.0002 sec
Mysql Total
Mysqli_queries0.2834 sec11.9683%1590.0018 sec
Looping result0.0079 sec0.3340%1510.0001 sec
Template Total2.3194 sec 97.9% 7 0.3313 sec
Template load0.0059 sec0.2504%70.0008 sec
Template processing2.3132 sec97.6783%70.3305 sec
Template load and register function0.0002 sec0.0096%40.0001 sec
states
state_id_array0.0039 sec0.1629%80.0005 sec
state_identifier_array0.0054 sec0.2295%110.0005 sec
override
Cache load0.0050 sec0.2126%720.0001 sec
eZ Find
MoreLikeThis0.0000 sec0.0000%00.0000 sec
Query build0.0068 sec0.2866%10.0068 sec
Engine time0.0269 sec1.1351%10.0269 sec
Search0.2807 sec11.8537%20.1404 sec
Class attribute list0.0811 sec3.4238%10.0811 sec
Sytem overhead
Fetch class attribute name0.0012 sec0.0518%60.0002 sec
Fetch class attribute can translate value0.0025 sec0.1068%40.0006 sec
class_abstraction
Instantiating content class attribute0.0001 sec0.0022%60.0000 sec
XML
Image XML parsing0.0035 sec0.1471%40.0009 sec
General
String conversion0.0000 sec0.0007%30.0000 sec
dbfile0.0012 sec0.0501%350.0000 sec
View Extra building0.0099 sec0.4194%40.0025 sec
Total script time:2.3682 sec

CSS/JS files loaded with "ezjscPacker" during request:

CacheTypePacklevelSourceFiles
01a980f93dc967c6e39d52a11ae2108b_1404899611_all.cssCSS3extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/normalize.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/html5b.css
design/standard/stylesheets/debug.css
extension/ezwt/design/standard/stylesheets/websitetoolbar.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/jquery-ui-1.10.3.custom.min.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/desktop.css
ede0a88fd146f1a095d27fb22227d0e5_1398846822.jsJS2extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/modernizr.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/jquery-1.10.2.min.js
1650da1ba852ac5f9af81af07e8fa105_1404899611.jsJS2extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery-ui-1.10.4.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/json2.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/jquery.cookie.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.mobile.custom.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.arthole.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.sticky.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.csmstory.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.right_column.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.csmstory_editorspickdialog.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.sailthru_signup.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.jcarousel.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.history.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.mainNav.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.gallery.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.staffdialog.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jQuery.rollChildren.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/pubService_extended.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/csm/csmNew.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.quiz.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.spectrumQuiz.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/global.js

Templates used to render the page:

UsageRequested templateTemplateTemplate loadedEditOverride
1node/view/full.tplfull/article.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/full/article.tplEdit templateOverride template
20content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tpl<No override>extension/ezwebin/design/ezwebin/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezimage.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezimage.tplEdit templateOverride template
12content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tplEdit templateOverride template
10content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/bodyemphasis.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/bodyemphasis.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezstring.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezstring.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplcontent/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezmatrix.tplcontent/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplEdit templateOverride template
1pagelayout.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/pagelayout.tplEdit templateOverride template
1modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tpl<No override>extension/mugo_view_extras/design/standard/templates/modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tplEdit templateOverride template
1setup/debug_toolbar.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/setup/debug_toolbar.tplEdit templateOverride template
 Number of times templates used: 52
 Number of unique templates used: 13
 Time used to render template usage: 0.0003 secs