Reverse Yaourt

This morning, Thierry Michel sent in a link to the "soundtrack opening and theme" from the 2016 TV Movie Maigret Sets A Trap, which he describes as "a french-sounding song that actually makes no sense in french, something that was called 'yaourt' back in the 60s when french singers did the same with English (you wrote a few posts on that already on LL)":

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Don't splain me, bro!

A week ago I posted Don't skunk me, bro!, which riffed on Jonathon Owen's post Skunked Terms and Scorched Earth on Arrant Pedantry. Jonathon's post had discussed Bryan Garner's practice of declaring that certain expressions should be avoided because they are supposedly "skunked". Garner uses that term to refer to expressions that are in the process of undergoing a hotly disputed change of meaning, with the result that, in Garner's words, "any use of it is likely to distract some readers".

Shortly after posting "Don't skunk me, bro!", I got a message on Twitter from Tcherina (@grammarguidecom): "Glad to see you taking up the 'skunked' issue. I got bullied and splained when I tweeted Jonathon's piece [i.e., the post that had prompted mine], which I thought was very good."

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Il congiuntivo: Peeving and breeding, Italian style

As a counterpoint to "Peeving and breeding", 3/4/2018, here's Lorenzo Baglioni's "Il Congiuntivo":

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Ask LLOG: "friends" vs. "flense"

Query from reader RR:

Just trying to get unpaid labor from a phonetician here…

I've written a puzzle which involves swapping out one phoneme for another in various words. A couple of testsolvers have objected that "flense" doesn't become "friends" if you change the second phoneme; they insist they pronounce the D in "friends" (or don't have a D in the transition from N to Z in "flense", if you prefer).

Try as I might, I can't pronounce those two words such that they don't rhyme exactly, at least without sounding like an idiot. And like all people, I of course believe my self-judgment of phonetics is better than average. :-)

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"On the fritz" at Sing Sing

[This is a guest post by Stephen Goranson.]

Though it's generally agreed that "on the fritz" means, more or less, "in an unsatisfactory or defective state or condition" (Oxford English Dictionary), there is no agreement on its etymology. Some currently associate "fritz" with a sound from a malfunctioning electric machine, but the early uses of the phrase did not apply to machines but to persons. Others, including OED, guess that, somehow, the German name Fritz was involved. But several early usages of the phrase were spelled as "on the friz"; and both "on the friz" and "on the fritz" were often spelled without any capital F. Rather than a German name or a mechanical effusion, I suggest, the origin used dialect forms of the verb "freeze," as being frozen up or frozen out were negative. Such forms are well-attested in the Dictionary of American Regional English and in U.S. newspapers of the 1890s.

And a poem that prisoner number 23,669 contributed in 1902 to the "Star of Hope" (a prison newspaper published at Sing Sing) supports this hypothesis.

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Easy to Laugh

My friend James Cathey sent me an eyebrow-raiser this morning: “Here is a sentence that stopped me in my tracks: "Robinson, who has a warm voice and is easy to laugh, has a way of setting the record straight …"   (TIME: March 12, 2018, p. 50)"

Jim says he could never say "is easy to laugh" in any context that he can think of, and asks “What is going on here?”

I could never say that either, but then I was also surprised at some of the meanings Russian reflexives (and Polish, etc) can have — not only reflexive, reciprocal, and 'unaccusative' (the door opened, etc), but also transitives with missing object and a 'habitual' meaning — I heard it used standardly for 'that dog bites'.

So “easy to laugh” feels to me not totally impossible, and maybe related to the connection between 'These plates break easily' from a transitive and 'He laughs easily' from an intransitive. In the literature I've seen plenty of discussion of the 'break easily' cases and don't remember seeing any of the 'laugh easily' cases.

Maybe also relevant that “laughable” is one of the relatively few -able words formed from an intransitive? But the sense of “laughable” is very different, seems related to a transitive ‘laugh at’ sense, whereas this one is clearly based on intransitive ‘laugh’.

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Epic eye-roll

Everybody's talking about the eye-roll of the century, the eye-roll that has gone wildly viral in China.  It's undoubtedly the most exciting thing that happened at the Two Sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) that began on March 5 and will most likely end soon.  It was a foregone conclusion that President Xi Jinping would be crowned de facto Emperor for Life and that his "thought" would be enshrined in the constitution.  What was not expected was a brief but epochal roll of the eyes on the part of one female reporter, Liang Xiangyi 梁相宜 (dressed in blue — I'll call her Ms. Blue or [Ms.] Liang), when another female reporter, Zhang Huijun 张慧君 (dressed in red — I'll call her Ms. Red or [Ms.] Zhang), went on too long and too effusively with her fawning question to a high-ranking CCP official.

You see, everything at the NPC is supposed to be scripted and orchestrated.  There aren't supposed to be any surprises.  Yet, as you can see for yourself, Ms. Liang could not hide her true emotions, which are painfully evident at 0:36 in the following 0:44 video — with an increasingly dramatic buildup to the moment of her monumental recoil:

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Learning curves: up and down, steep and shallow

Daniel Drezner, "Five thoughts about the firing of Rex Tillerson", WaPo 3/13/2018 [emphasis added]:

There is no signature idea or doctrine or accomplishment that Tillerson can point to as part of his legacy. He was woefully unprepared for the job on Day One and barely moved down the learning curve. His incompetence undercut his ability to advance any worthwhile policy instinct.

My reaction on reading this passage was that Drezner should have written that Tillerson "barely moved up the learning curve". As we'll see, this opposition in directional metaphors is apparently a cultural difference between psychology and economics, or maybe among a more complicated set of academic subgroups.  And while I was looking into this issue of directionality, I was reminded of another curious quirk of learning-curve metaphors that I've been meaning to write about for a while, namely the inverted meaning of "steep".

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Dung Times

There's a roundly execrated publication of the CCP called Global Times in English.  The Chinese name is Huánqiú shíbào 环球时报.  Associated with the People's Daily, it is infamous for its extreme, provocative, anti-Indian, anti-Japanese, anti-Western (especially anti-American) editorials and articles.

Now it seems that some Indian Tweeps are referring to the Global Times as "Gobar Times", using Hindi  gobar गोबर ("cow-dung") to mimic the sound and the sentiment the name evokes. A tweet by Donald Clarke calls our attention to this fecal phenomenon.

Here it is in use.

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Anti-MSM sentiment in Sichuan

Photograph of a slide shown during a lecture at a university in Sichuan:

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Overheard just now…

…in Alta, Utah, where I'm conducting field research into how many words skiers have for snow, evidence of the polysemousness of Twitter:

Do you want to know what her Twitter is? [Apparently meaning 'her Twitter handle']

I have a Twitter. [By the same guy, apparently meaning 'a Twitter account']

Extra added bonus: I'm writing this on my iPad, and the autocorrect suggestion for polysemousness was polysemous nests, which for some reason I kinda like.

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The end of the line for Mandarin Phonetic Symbols?

Just as all school children in the PRC learn to read and write through Hanyu Pinyin ("Sinitic spelling"), the official romanization on the mainland, so do all school children in Taiwan learn to read and write with the aid of what is commonly referred to as "Bopomofo ㄅㄆㄇㄈ "), after the first four letters of this semisyllabary.  The system has many other names, including "Zhùyīn fúhào 注音符號" ("[Mandarin] Phonetic Symbols"), its current formal designation, as well as earlier names such as Guóyīn Zìmǔ 國音字母 ("Phonetic Alphabet of the National Language") and Zhùyīn Zìmǔ 註音字母 ( "Phonetic Alphabet" or "Annotated Phonetic Letters").  From the plethora of names, you can get an idea of what sort of system it is.  I usually think of it as a cross between an alphabet and a syllabary.

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Candidate for careless Whorfian nonsense of the year

Earlier today, I discussed (or at least linked to) a serious econometric study arguing that the morphology of future time reference is meaningfully correlated — perhaps causally correlated — with the distribution of attitudes towards "willingness to take climate action" ("The latest on the Whorfian morphology of time"). A short time later, with the radio playing in the background as I worked, I heard an extraordinary example of (what I take to be) the sort of media-buzz nonsense that gives discussions of linguistic relativity such a bad reputation among serious people.

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