- Website: http://ling.upenn.edu/~myl
Posts by Mark Liberman:
Ted Cruz has gotten a lot of very creative grief for apparently messing up the re-enactment of a scene from the movie Hoosiers by referring to the height of a "basketball ring":
From the Hydraulic Press Channel on YouTube:
This is pretty funny. Rob Beschizza, "Trump slowed 50%", BoingBoing 4/19/2016:
Everyone sounds drunk or stoned when slowed down 50%, but doing so to Trump reveals that his bizarre, digressive speech patterns are uncannily like a drunk sped up 200%.
Peter Howard sent in a listicle at NotAlwaysRight, "10 scams we're not too stupid to fall for", which describes ways that customers will try to fool cashiers, for example by switching price labels: "it doesn’t take a genius to realise that a $50 bottle of liquor would not be mislabeled as $0.99 cheese-balls in any universe."
Peter observes that the headline "10 scams we're not too stupid to fall for" is not exactly over-negation, in the sense that removing the negation makes things worse rather than better — but still, there's something wrong.
This case is quite similar to the original "No head injury is too trivial to ignore" example — see "No detail too small", 11/27/2009, and "No wug is too dax to be zonged", 11/28/2009. Like may other examples of what we've taken to calling misnegation, such cases illustrate the fact that the interaction of negation and scalar predicates is hard enough for people to analyze that they easily jump to an interpretation that makes sense, even if it isn't the correct compositional analysis of the phrase in question.
In the comments on my post "When did 'a thing' become a thing", 4/18/2016,, James Barrett points us to a video from the Royal Society that includes the following passage from a letter, dated 1783, from one Eberhard Johann Schröter in St. Petersburg, addressed to Dr. Daniel Solander, an associate of Sir Joseph Banks:
If any body could be thoroughly convinced that a prediction of winds is a thing and possible and real, then to such a person a proper classification of them would be useful.
(This letter was selected to be read because its card was the very last item in the card catalogue of the Royal Society's library.)
This citation suggests that the "is a thing" usage has always been Out There in platonic Idiom World, and may have been incarnated many times through history before it finally caught the memetic brass ring. And never mind that Eberhard Schröter was presumably not a native speaker of English.
Here's an unexpected factoid from the transcripts of the 21 debates held so far in the current U.S. presidential campaign: Despite his "Make America Great Again" slogan, Donald Trump uses the words America and American almost 13 times less often than Bernie Sanders does.
In discussions about the history of usage, like this one, people often bring out generic memories ("I heard this all the time back in such-and-such a time period") or even more specific recollections ("I remember so-and-so saying this back in 19XX"). I've done this myself more than once. But recently something happened that made me wonder whether these memories can sometimes be false ones.
Josh Marshall, "Prep for the Overshoot", TPM 4/19/2016 (emphasis added):
[P]eople had convinced themselves last week that Trump was basically done – largely on the basis of a few bad news cycles and a big loss in Wisconsin. As long as he didn't get to 1237, he was toast. But Wisconsin was obviously an outlier. Now though things look very different. And they are different. But part of that is that Trump was never in as bad of shape as people thought ten days ago.
A lovely example of a Fay-Cutler malapropism, i.e. a lexical substitution error:
As I mentioned a few days ago ("More political text analytics", 4/15/2016), I've now got more-or-less cleaned-up text from the 21 debates held so far in the current U.S. presidential campaign.
[Update — with some help from Chris Culy, I've done additional clean-up on the debate texts, and therefore have revised the numbers in this post slightly, as of 4/23/2016. None of the numbers have changed a lot, and none of the qualitative implications have changed at all.]
If we focus on the contributions to those 21 debates of the five remaining U.S. presidential candidates, we get 199,188 words in total, divided up like this:
This morning I'll add a few small examples of the kind of information that can be derived from a dataset of this type.
Alexander Stern, "Is That Even a Thing?", NYT 4/16/2016:
Speakers and writers of American English have recently taken to identifying a staggering and constantly changing array of trends, events, memes, products, lifestyle choices and phenomena of nearly every kind with a single label — a thing. In conversation, mention of a surprising fad, behavior or event is now often met with the question, “Is that actually a thing?” Or “When did that become a thing?” Or “How is that even a thing?” Calling something “a thing” is, in this sense, itself a thing.
The first two panels of today's Doonesbury: