Archive for Nerdview

Eggcorn of the month

James Fallows discusses his experience as a juror — "Build Your Vocabulary, 'Ass Baton' Edition", The Atlantic 5/2/2015:

Through the examination and cross-exams in this case, attorneys for both sides were careful to make sure that even very familiar terms were spelled out to remove the last bit of ambiguity. […]

There was one exception, the term I kept hearing as "ass baton." At one crucial point in this case, a white (as it happened, and young and ostentatiously fit) police officer was chasing a black (as it happened, and older and heavier) suspect down a dark alley, on foot. The policeman soon tackled the defendant from behind. What happened next?

"I struck him with the ass baton, and then I secured his hands with flexi-cuffs, and …" "And was the suspect injured by the ass baton?" "He did not appear to be, but since he would not say anything to us, as a routine precaution after use of the ass baton we called an ambulance…"

I learned afterwards that the other 11 members of the jury were all thinking roughly what I was: "Ass baton? Am I the only person who has never heard of this? I guess I can understand what it could mean, in context. You've got your hand cuffs, and your leg restraints. But really, an ass baton?" A jury isn't allowed to ask questions in court. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (22)

mark.liberman.121 is not me

Earlier today, someone set up a Facebook account https://www.facebook.com/mark.liberman.121, with a version of my FB profile picture, and began communicating with people as if they were me. My actual FB page is https://www.facebook.com/mark.liberman, which I don't use much except to look at things that people tell me about.

This is apparently a phishing enterprise. The impostor asks people for their phone number and email address and postal address — at least one person gave them this much information — and eventually gets around to money.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (26)

Biomedical nerdview

My new hobby, as Randall Munroe sometimes says, is asking biomedical researchers what "sensitivity" and "specificity" mean. The modal response is "Um, yes, I always have to look those up".

But recently, preparing a homework assignment about the evaluation of binary classifiers, I had a flash of insight. My new insight answers one of the questions I've always had about these terms: Why do biomedical researchers focus on the (apparently misleading) concepts that "sensitivity" and "specificity" denote?  (My other question remains unanswered: Why did they pick those singularly un-mnemonic names? As far as I can see, they might as well have called them  "delicacy" and "capacity", or "intensity" and "curiosity", or "Jupiter" and "Saturn".)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (27)

Fan-fold ticket stock nerdview

We have not discussed any examples of nerdview on Language Log for a while. But Bob Ladd told me of one the other day. He was at the Edinburgh Airport dropping someone off, and pulled up next to the ticket dispensing machine for the short-stay car park. He pushed the button, but no ticket appeared. Instead, the display screen of the machine showed a message: "OUT OF FAN-FOLD TICKETS".

Not having encountered the term "fan-fold" (I guess he never owned a tractor-feed printer in the 1980s), he was momentarily flummoxed. What the hell was a fan-fold ticket, and what was he supposed to do, given that there apparently weren't any, and he had to take one to make the white bar lift up so he could go in?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Scholar-hegemons in China

In "Nerd, geek, PK: Creeping Romanization (and Englishization), part 2" and other Language Log posts, we have delved into the terminology for nerddom.  In the course of our discussions, we seem to have arrived at a consensus that it's difficult to find a Chinese term that conveys well the notion and nuances of the English word "nerd".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (29)

Mandarin is weirder than Cantonese

So says idibon.

Beijing Cream took the hint and ran with it: "Cantonese, Which Sounds Like A Jackhammer Mating With A Chainsaw, Is Apparently Less 'Weird' Than Mandarin".

When I first read these sensationalistic claims, I stood back, took a deep breath, and said to myself, "Wait a minute! There are lots of people (mostly Mandarin speakers!) who swear that Mandarin is the most pleasant sounding of all the Sinitic languages." Just what is it that has led idibon to declare Cantonese to be less weird than Mandarin?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)

Transit is departing

The electric train that runs between the different parts of Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport insists on referring to itself as a "transit".

What's more, the remarkably annoying female voice that tells you needlessly that the doors are closing and that the train is about to start moving says "Transit is departing."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (28)

"Bladed items": nerdview?

After teenager Casey-Lyanne Kearney was found dying in a park in the northern England town of Doncaster yesterday, 26-year-old Hannah Bonser was arrested and charged with murder; but according to various news sources (e.g., Sky News and The Telegraph) she was also "charged with two counts of possessing a bladed item." Why would anyone use such a strange and deliberately vague technical description of a knife?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Puzzled in Tarragona

In the Hotel Ciutat de Tarragona, the beautiful modern hotel in Tarragona where I am currently staying, I ate breakfast in the 1st-floor restaurant (Americans: that would be the 2nd floor), and then came out to take the elevator back up to my 5th-floor room (Americans: 6 floors up). But I was baffled: there was no button to call the elevator for upward journeys. There was just a button labeled with the Down-Arrow symbol for calling the elevator to go back down to the lobby on level 0. Some sort of security, I assumed, to ensure that random restaurant patrons don't go up in the elevator to wander up and down the halls looking for unlocked doors or stealable items. But then how was I to get back up to my room? I'm ashamed to report just how long it took me to resolve the conundrum here. Perhaps you would like to solve it for yourself before you read on.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Create a language, go to jail

I've received several messages with links to this NYT piece since its appearance online on Sunday. The piece is on Dothraki, a constructed language used in the HBO series "Game of Thrones" and invented by David J. Peterson, founder and President of the Language Creation Society and (as it happens) a former PhD student here in the Extreme Southwest Wing of Language Log Plaza. The piece also talks about constructed languages ("conlangs") and language constructors ("conlangers") a bit more generally, and most specifically with respect to their use in Hollywood. (That 'their' is purposely ambiguous.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (66)

Microsoft tech writing noun pile blog post madness!

Fans of noun piles will enjoy the recent blog post by Mike Pope, a technical editor at Microsoft, "Fun (or not) with noun stacks." Mike shares a few of the lovely compound noun pileups he's encountered on the job:

  • data bound control table row action links
  • failed password security question answer attempts limit
  • reduced minimum OS partition space available requirement

Mike goes on to explain why he thinks these problematic constructions continue to crop up in technical writing, driven by imperatives of terseness and concision at the expense of comprehensibility. He also gives helpful advice for untangling technical noun piles into something more user-friendly. That's all well and good, but you have to wonder just how deeply enmeshed in nerdview a writer must be to produce a whopper like "failed password security question answer attempts limit."

Comments (42)

Xtreme nerdview

I don't do surveys, so don't ask. I cannot afford a quarter of an hour answering an ill-designed list of questions for you so that your manager can use the scientifically worthless results to make out a case that your service unit is doing a good job. And don't call me on the phone and tell me you're doing some social science research, because I just know there will be a follow-up call trying to sell me carpets or enrol me in a political action committee. However, my colleague Bob Ladd encouraged me to do a survey about the new building in which the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences lives its generally happy life at the University of Edinburgh. He told me there would be a treat at the end in terms of what I have dubbed nerdview. And boy, was there a treat. The survey was terrible — hopelessly designed, and will yield worthless results — but the feedback to the user at the end did indeed give me the best example of nerdview I ever saw.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Firemen, dental practice, and danglers

Said the story in the Ottawa Citizen:

The woman was trapped in her car unconscious for about 20 minutes while firefighters performed an extraction, he said.

And alert Language Log reader Diane commented: "I had no idea our firefighters were also trained at dentistry!" She also asked me whether the misleading phrase an extraction was a dangler (an analog of the dangling modifier that prescriptivists warn against).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (44)