Character amnesia in 1793-1794

The first British envoy to China was George Macartney; his mission is referred to in the historical literature as the Macartney Embassy.  The basic purpose of the embassy was to open up trade between Great Britain and China, which theretofore has been greatly restricted in various ways by the Chinese authorities.

Naturally, Macartney would have needed translation assistance to communicate with Chinese officials.  However, due to some peculiar circumstances that will be related below, translators were not easy to come by, as is detailed in this passage from the Wikipedia article on the Macartney Embassy:

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Identify Mystery Text, Win $1000

From the University Chicago Library News:

Calling all historians of cryptography and stenography, Sherlockians (see “The Dancing Men”), and other amateur detectives!  The collection of Homer editions in the Special Collections Research Center – the  Bibliotheca Homerica Langiana(BHL) – includes a copy of the rare 1504 edition of Homer’s Odyssey that contains, in Book 11 (narrating Odysseus’s journey into Hades) handwritten annotations in a strange and as-yet unidentified script.  This marginalia appears only in the pages of Book 11 of the Odyssey; nowhere else in the volume.  Although the donor of the BHL is suspicious that this odd script is a form of 19th-century shorthand (likely French), he acknowledges that this hypothesis remains unsupported by any evidence offered to date.  

The donor of the BHL is offering a prize of $1,000 to the first person who identifies the script, provides evidence to support the conclusion, and executes a translation of selected portions of the mysterious marginalia.

I was not able to find high-resolution images for remote use — Can it really be true that aspirants need to travel to Chicago and inspect the material IRL?

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Affirmative action

Yesterday a journalist asked me about the background of the term "affirmative action". I turned up a few things like this, from a (2006 reprint of a) 1954 book French Administrative Law and the Common-Law World:

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Translate Server Error

This is probably the most egregious of all Chinese-English translation fails:


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Agreement

Today's SMBC:

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It begs the way we see the world

Brad Plumer, "Two Degrees: How the World Failed on Climate Change", Vox 4/22/2014:

"If you’re serious about 2°C, the rates of change are so significant that it begs the way we see the world. That’s what people aren’t prepared to embrace," says Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research. "Essentially you’d have to start asking questions about our current society and how we develop and grow."

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The city of Mr. Andreessen, South Korea

By now, the sinking of the South Korean MV Sewol on April 16, 2014, with 476 persons on board, is known to the whole world.  Especially tragic is the fact that most of the passengers were high school students on an outing and that the ship's captain had behaved in an extremely irresponsible manner, resulting in the deaths of many individuals who might otherwise have been saved:

"South Korean President: Actions of sunken ferry captain 'akin to murder'".

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Gaps inside adjunct phrases

Linguists have often assumed that the principles of English syntax do not allow a dependency between the head noun and the "gap" in a relative clause to span the boundaries of an adjunct such as a conditional if phrase. They will invent pairs of this sort to illustrate the ungrammatical results:

  1. I'm working with a man that I think you would absolutely hate.
  2. *I'm working with a man that if you saw you would throw up.

In the first, the meaning of the relative clause is "I think you would absolutely hate him", and syntactically there is a gap where the object of hate (underlined) would have been. But in the second, the meaning of the relative clause is if you saw him you would throw up, and the underlined pronoun is inside the conditional adjunct if you saw [him]. Having the gap inside the adjunct is not permitted, they say.

And they mean that descriptively: the claim is not that you ought to avoid sentences like 2 above; the claim is that all speakers have a natural instinctive aversion to syntactic structures of this sort.

But is that true?

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Playing philologist at summer camp

In response to "What would a "return to philology" be a return to?", Omri Ceren proposes a simple explanation for Paul de Man's assertion that literary "theory" was just a return to philology:

You might be overthinking the de Man thing.

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Philology and Sinology

I was going to post this as a comment to Mark Liberman's "What would a 'return to philology' be a return to?", but it got to be too long, so I'm putting it up as a separate piece.

To begin with, when people ask me what my profession is, I've always replied that I am a Sinologist, but most people don't know what a Sinologist is, so that leads to complications.

Let me illustrate.

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Expletive undeleted

Either the NYT has changed its policies, or some editor was asleep at the beeper and let  this through by mistake — "Raptors Drop Expletive and Game to Nets in Playoff Opener", NYT 4/19/2014:

Sparked by a stinging expletive the NBA playoffs got off to an explosive start as the Brooklyn Nets landed the first blow in a suddenly bitter Eastern Conference first round match-up with a 94-87 win over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday.  Out of the playoffs since 2008, Toronto's return to the postseason was both eventful and controversial, upping the ante in the best-of-seven series.  

With A list celebrities, including rappers Drake, Jay-Z and Beyonce, occupying courtside seats, an embarrassing technical malfunction and a jaw-dropping expletive delivered by Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri to thousands of frenzied supporters at a pre-game pep rally, the first game of the NBA postseason offered a little bit over everything.

Despite topping the Atlantic Division and setting a franchise record with 48 victories, the Raptors have had a harder time winning respect than games. Meanwhile the Nets dropped four of their last five contests, including a 29-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in their season finale, to cement a Toronto match-up.

 The Nets denied any suggestion of subterfuge but Ujiri made his position crystal clear, shouting "Fuck Brooklyn!" at a fan rally outside Air Canada Center prior to the start of Game One.

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What would a "return to philology" be a return to?

I recently read Peter Brooks' "The Strange Case of Paul de Man", NYRB 4/3/2014, which is a review of The Double Life of Paul de Man by Evelyn Barish. Brooks' central argument seems to be that it's unfair to call de Man a fascist thief, because he was really just a charismatic sociopath. But the thing that caught my eye was a reference to an essay by de Man that I hadn't read:

He began teaching Reuben Brower’s famous course in Harvard’s General Education program, “Humanities 6: Introduction to Literature,” which had a transformative effect on his own approach to literature, as he noted in one of his last published essays, “The Return to Philology.”

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Funky Mind Shoes

Michael Johnson took this picture in Hong Kong between Queen's Road Central and the escalators:


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"Want PRO should"

Aaron sent in a question about a usage that he first noticed at the age of nine, learning Allan Sherman's "hello mudda hello fadda" for an elementary school assembly:

Now I don't want / this should  scare ya,
But my bunk mate / has malaria.

He has also seen a similar use of irrealis should from time to time in old jokes:

Q: Mom! You haven't eaten in three weeks? Why not?
A: I didn't want my mouth to be full you should call.

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Sinographic memory in Vietnamese writing

Jason Cox sent in the following photograph of the cover of a Vietnamese religious text and asked what was going on with the "characters" along the left and right sides.


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