- Website: http://ling.upenn.edu/~myl
Posts by Mark Liberman:
Departing from Canadian stereotypes: "Toronto Mayor Rob Ford denies using crack cocaine", CBC News 5/24/2013
There has been a serious accusation from the Toronto Star that I use crack cocaine. I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict.
Paul Krugman ("The Sloppiness Syndrome", NYT 5/22/2013):
So what is it with New Republic alumni? First Michael Kinsley, then Charles Lane, weigh in with defenses of austerity that aren’t just wrong, but painfully ill-informed. Kinsley not only makes a really bad analogy between current events and the 1970s, he seems not to know anything about what happened in the 1970s either. Lane attacks stimulus advocates for failing to address an argument that I actually discussed, at length, in my last column but one.
Whence cometh this epidemic of sheer sloppiness?
I’m not really sure, but in these cases I suspect it has a lot to do with the famed TNR/Slate premium on being “counterintuitive”, which in practice meant skewering supposed liberal pieties. (Kinsley himself joked that TNR should be renamed “Even the liberal New Republic”).
David Brooks has found a congenial story in Google ngrams — or rather, in three papers about ngrammatical history, which he interprets to show that virtue, discipline, and concern for the common good have been declining, while subjectivity and concern for self-esteem have increased ("What Our Words Tell Us", NYT 5/20/2013)).
Brooks doesn't cite or link to the papers, which in my opinion is a form of journalistic malpractice, so here they are:
Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell, and Brittany Gentile, "Increases in Individualistic Words and Phrases in American Books, 1960–2008", PLoS One 7/10/2012
Pelin Kesebir and Selin Kesebir, "The Cultural Salience of Moral Character and Virtue Declined in Twentieth Century America", Journal of Positive Psychology, Forthcoming
Daniel B. Klein, "Ngrams of the Great Transformations", GMU Working Paper in Economics, 2013
A guest post from Tony Kroch:
The line "The Lady doth protest too much, me thinks" from Hamlet that Mark Liberman blogged about at the end of last month struck me because it encapsulates in one sentence several significant changes that the English language has undergone. We are lucky that the written record is rich enough to let us see how features we take for granted today developed over time.
Roni Caryn Rabin, "No Easy Choices on Breast Reconstruction", NYT Blogs 5/20/2013:
A syndrome called upper quarter dysfunction — its symptoms include pain, restricted immobility and impaired sensation and strength — has been reported in over half of breast cancer survivors and may be more frequent in those who undergo breast reconstruction, according to a 2012 study in the journal Cancer. [emphasis added]
Reader E.S.M. wondered whether "restricted immobility" should have been "restricted mobility" or "partial immobility" or something else.
From Simon King:
I am pleased to announce that the English section of this year's Blizzard Challenge listening test is now live. Please help us out by taking part, and encouraging your colleagues, students, friends, contacts, etc. to take part too. It's your chance to hear a range of speech synthesisers, including some really good ones. Please circulate this message widely - for example, on mailing lists, forums and using social media - we need to reach as many people as possible in the coming month or so.
In "The Inca Connection: A Quechua Word Game", 5/18/2013, Piotr Gąsiorowski compares "a 200-word Swadesh list for Southern Quechua and the Tower of Babel 'Eurasiatic' etymologies", and finds 22 clear matches. He notes that "There are only twenty-two matches because I got bored too soon, but it’s an easy game", and concludes
I think I have already demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the Quechua people are a lost Nostratic tribe. Note that the semantic matches are impeccable and the similarity of the words is quite obvious to any open-minded observer. Indeed, the matches are much better than many of those in the LWED. The quality of examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9, in particular, is guaranteed by the fact that they represent statistically certified ultraconserved Eurasiatic vocabulary (Pagel et al. 2013). The famous items ‘mother’, ‘bark’, and ‘worm’ are among them. […]
But there is more to Quechua than just its Eurasiatic affinities. It seems to be particularly close to Proto-Indo-European. Compare the Quechua numerals pichqa ‘5’ and suqta ‘6’ = PIE *penkʷe, *sweḱs, clearly a common Indo-Quechuan innovation not shared with any other Eurasiatic group. I can’t reveal too much at present, but mark my words: you’ll read about it in Nature one day – or Science, perhaps, or PNAS.
Luke Johnson, "Louie Gohmert Goes Off On Eric Holder At House Hearing", Huffington Post 5/16/2013:
A visibly infuriated Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) tore into Attorney General Eric Holder after his time expired in a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. […]
"I cannot have a witness challenge my character," said Gohmert, as the chairman told him again that his time had expired. Gohmert continued talking as other members of the committee asked him to observe hearing rules and suspend.
Gohmert asked again for a point of personal privilege and said that Holder was "wrong on the things that I asserted as fact." The other members of the committee disputed that his contention was a point of personal privilege.
"The attorney general will not cast aspersions on my asparagus," said Gohmert, in a malapropism for the ages.
From the 5/16/2013 decision of the Third Circuit, invalidating an NLRB decision based on the argument that the "recess appointment" of one of the board's members was invalid:
The "main purpose" of the Recess Appointments Clause, therefore, is not—as the Eleventh Circuit held and the Board argues—only "to enable the President to fill vacancies to assure the proper functioning of our government." Evans, 387 F.3d at 1226. This formulation leaves out a crucial aspect of the Clause‘s purpose: to preserve the Senate‘s advice-and-consent power by limiting the president‘s unilateral appointment power. Accord Noel Canning, 705 F.3d at 505 (explaining that the Eleventh Circuit‘s statement of the Clause‘s purpose "omits a crucial element of the Clause, which enables the president to fill vacancies only when the Senate is unable to provide advice and consent" (emphasis in original)).
The importance of this aspect of the Clause‘s purpose is difficult to understate. [emphasis added]
There's an ongoing argument about the interpretation of Katherine Baicker et al., "The Oregon Experiment — Effects of Medicaid on Clinical Outcomes", NEJM 5/2/2013, and one aspect of this debate has focused on the technical meaning of the word significant. Thus Kevin Drum, "A Small Rant About the Meaning of Significant vs. 'Significant'", Mother Jones 5/13/2013:
Many of the results of the Oregon study failed to meet the 95 percent standard, and I think it's wrong to describe this as showing that "Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years."
To be clear: it's fine for the authors of the study to describe it that way. They're writing for fellow professionals in an academic journal. But when you're writing for a lay audience, it's seriously misleading. Most lay readers will interpret "significant" in its ordinary English sense, not as a term of art used by statisticians, and therefore conclude that the study positively demonstrated that there were no results large enough to care about.
Nicholas Thompson, "Terrible News About Carbon and Climage Change", The New Yorker 5/12/2013:
We’ve got more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any point since the Pliocene, when there were jungles in northern Canada. And the number hurdles ever upward, as ocean levels rise and extreme weather becomes routine. Three-fifty was the old target; four-fifty is the new one. But what indication is there that we’ll stop at five hundred, six hundred, or even more?
During my recent visit to Michigan, San Duanmu told me about some really neat work that he published last year as "Word-length preferences in Chinese: a corpus study", Journal of East Asian Linguistics 21.1: 89-114, 2012.