Archive for Silliness

Emojify the Web: "the next phase of linguistic evolution"

Today's announcement from the Google Chrome team (yes, note the date):

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What do the following phrases or sayings have in common?

  • first-year experience
  • fast-track MBA
  • be the difference
  • cure violence
  • student life
  • students with diabetes
  • one course at a time
  • touched by a nurse
  • we're conquering cancer
  • working toward a world without cancer
  • imagination beyond measure
  • tomorrow starts here

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Whom loves ya?

What a fool I've been, thinking all the time that the important stuff was about evidence and structure and the search for genuine syntactic principles — trying to find out through study of competent speakers' usage what are the actual principles that define (say) marking of accusative case on pronouns in Standard English. God, I've been wasting my life.

Wired magazine has published (just in time for Valentine's Day) a large-scale statistical study of what correlates with numbers of responses to online dating ads (and let me say here that I am deeply grateful to Charles Hallinan for pointing it out to me). Much of the survey relates to the words used in the ad. For example, mentioning yoga or surfing in your ad has a positive influence on the number of contacts that will result. Some of the discoveries are curious: for men, it is much better to refer to a woman using the word "woman", but a woman's ad will do better if she refers to herself as a "girl". And (the point that has turned my life around, made on the infographic here), it turns out that men who use "whom" get 31% more contacts from opposite-sex respondents.

This changes everything! It's not just about the inflectional marking of relative and interrogative pronouns any more, people; it's about getting more sex!

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Despicable human scum

For those wondering why on earth an official announcement about the solemn business of executing a traitor would use wildly overheated language like "despicable human scum" and "worse than a dog" (especially about the uncle of the reigning monarch), the BBC has published a short article on the language of North Korean posthumous character assassination.

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Hsigo, the imaginary flying monkeys of Chinese mythology

If you do a web search for "Hsigo", you will find thousands of references and hundreds of images.  I won't give specific references, because they're all complete and utter nonsense, but you can read detailed descriptions of these fake, mythical Chinese monkeys — including pseudo-learned discussions of their name — in works like the following:  Erudite Tales, Creepy Hollows Encyclopedia, Mythical Creatures Guide, Encyclo, Societas Magic, Monstropedia, etc., etc.  Hsigo are supposedly flying monkeys with bird-like wings, the tail of a dog, and a human face.

There's even a very brief Wikipedia entry for Hsigo, but I know a top Wikipedia editor who is endeavoring to liquidate that totally fictitious article as a first-step toward eliminating "Hsigo" lore from the Web and hopefully from circulation elsewhere as well.

It all started with a typo. See "'Hsigo', the viral OCR typo".  This detective article is really quite entertaining and edifying.  It ends with a reference to what our Language Log colleague, Geoffrey Nunberg, calls "the 'metadata train wreck' of Google Books".

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Too much Victor Mair

I've been reading way too much Victor Mair. In the restaurant of my hotel in London I just saw an English girl wearing a T-shirt on which it said this:


And I immediately thought, who is Ho Pe?

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Pee straight

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Jumbled Chinese

I knew it wouldn't be long before someone came up with a Chinese equivalent to alphabetical typoglycemia:

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Bad science reporting again: the Eskimos are back

You just can't keep a bad idea down. And you just can't lift the level of bad science journalism up. David Robson of New Scientist, in a piece published in that pop science rag a couple of weeks ago (issue of 22/29 December 2012, p. 72; behind a pay wall) and now also published in the Washington Post, reports on a book chapter by Igor Krupnik and Ludger Müller-Wille about anthropologist Franz Boas's travels in the early 20th century with a Canadian Inuit band whose language he learned. Robson says of Boas:

Mentioning his observations in the introduction to his 1911 book "Handbook of American Indian Languages," he ignited the claim that Eskimos have dozens, or even hundreds, of words for snow. Although the idea continues to capture public imagination, most linguists considered it an urban legend, born of sloppy scholarship and journalistic exaggeration. Some have even gone as far as to name it the Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. The latest evidence, however, suggests that Boas was right all along.

Not a single statement in this passage is correct.

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Overestimating, underestimating, whatever

This post hits a trifecta of LLOG themes: the troublesome interaction of multiple negations with scalar predicates that we call "misnegation"; the flexible phrasal or conceptual templates we call "snowclones"; and the multiplication of careless variant quotations.

It started when a friend, in conversation, said something like "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. [pause] Or overestimating. Whatever."

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The One Way Adult Interzone

On the MBTA train ticket I bought the other day, entitling me to travel seven zones on the commuter rail system, it says boldly: One Way Adult Interzone.

Does that sound exactly like a name for a pornography website, or is it just me? "Welcome to the One-Way Adult Interzone (must be 18 or older to enter)…" Perhaps it's just me. Never mind.

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"Oppan Chomsky Style"

Somehow, Language Log has yet to take notice of the international sensation that is "Gangnam Style," the deliciously weird Korean pop video that currently has more than 560 million views on YouTube. Here's a good opportunity to rectify that oversight: among the countless spoofs of the video is this one by enterprising MIT students, featuring a cameo by Noam Chomsky at 3:20.

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Crowdsourcing the lexicon

A recent piece by Eric Mack on CNET News begs everyone — and in particular the dictionary publishers at Collins — to "stop crowdsourcing the English language." What he's grousing about is that Collins has now included entries for a few (by no means all) of the 5,000 newly current words that readers have pointed out to them.

What do people like Eric Mack think is the source of the information in dictionaries if it does not in effect come from crowdsourcing?

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They cut me out

The two mutually reinforcing ulterior motives that we Language Log writers share are (i) to have a bit of fun writing about language in ways that are not necessarily all that serious, and (ii) to slide in little bits of genuine public education about the cognitive and linguistic sciences to which we devote our time when we're at our day jobs. I have the same twin motives in the writing I do for Lingua Franca on the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Often, being me, I let the fun side predominate, and there's a lot more of humorous hyperbole and (let's face it) outright fantasy than there is of the cognitive and linguistic sciences. While Victor Mair sweats over sheets of Chinese characters and Mark Liberman generates graphs to see if the results of refereed papers can be replicated from reprocessed raw data, I just play. There's no linguistics at all in a piece like "I Wish I'd Said That", though it is sort of basically about language; and something similar is true for quite a few other posts listed on my reference page of Lingua Franca posts. But in today's piece, for once, everything I say is completely true, and I actually try to teach a tiny bit about syntactic ambiguity. And my reward was swift and cold: the compilers of the daily email newsletter through which The Chronicle points its subscribers to what they can find today on the web refused to include a pointer to my piece.

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Texting and language skills

There's a special place in purgatory reserved for scientists who make bold claims based on tiny effects of uncertain origin; and an extra-long sentence is imposed on those who also keep their data secret, publishing only hard-to-interpret summaries of statistical modeling. The flames that purify their scientific souls will rise from the lake of lava that eternally consumes the journalists who further exaggerate their dubious claims. Those fires, alas, await Drew P. Cingel and S. Shyam Sundar, the authors of "Texting, techspeak, and tweens: The relationship between text messaging and English grammar skills", New Media & Society 5/11/2012:

The perpetual use of mobile devices by adolescents has fueled a culture of text messaging,   with abbreviations and grammatical shortcuts, thus raising the following question in the   minds of parents and teachers: Does increased use of text messaging engender greater   reliance on such ‘textual adaptations’ to the point of altering one’s sense of written grammar?   A survey (N = 228) was conducted to test the association between text message usage of   sixth, seventh and eighth grade students and their scores on an offline, age-appropriate   grammar assessment test. Results show broad support for a general negative relationship between the use of techspeak in text messages and scores on a grammar assessment.

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