Archive for Semantics

Non-programmer friendly

Brad DeLong linked to a paywalled Financial Times article by Lisa Pollack about problems with spreadsheet usage, and observed that

[C]onsiderations like these make me extremely hesitant when I think of asking my students in Econ 1 next spring to do problems sets in Excel. Shouldn’t I be asking them to do it in R via R Studio or R Commander instead? Audit trails are very valuable. Debuggability is very valuable. Excel ain’t got it…

The first comment, from "Captaindomestic":

I'm biased as a MathWorks employee, but you may want to look into MATLAB. It is really strong in the kinds of data analysis and plotting that econ students need to do. MATLAB has a pretty non-programmer friendly editor and model that helps new users.

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How can you (not) help but (not) __?

Here's another example of the power of negation to confuse us –Jonathan Capehart, "Marco Rubio’s powerful American story", WaPo 4/14/2015:

Rubio’s up-from-nothing life story is inspiring. “I live in an exceptional country where even the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams and the same future as those who come from power and privilege,” he said. How can you not help but puff out your chest in pride for the promise of this nation?

This seems to be a blend of "How can you help but puff out your chest in pride?" and "How can you not puff out your chest in pride?".

Such expressions are fertile ground for misnegation: Given the combination of explicit or implicit negation with a question and an implicit scalar predicate (here the strength of the chest-puffing motivation), how can you not help but not throw in an extra negation or two?

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Hyperbolic scalar indifference

From Larry Horn

Eliza Kennedy, I Take You, 2015 (p. 69):

[narrator has just been asked by wedding planner to choose one of six identical-looking swatches]

I look at her, then at Rose. “Ladies? To say that I do not give two shits about this vastly overestimates the value I place on shits.”

They puzzle that one out for a while. So do I. Those Bloody Marys must have been pretty strong.

Trollthumper, in the context of an online discussion of TV shows:

Yeah, and while I'm not one to uphold a show as "the documentary experience," having such inaccuracies can just leave this ringing sense of disconnect with those who know the language. And I know that sometimes, that's just me – I've gotten into fights with friends over blatant inaccuracies in media, because in their eyes, such things only matter to a few people – and I don't believe you need to give a fuck about EVERYTHING. But there does come a point where a viewer's "lack-of-fucks-ometer" is going to tick over the red line, and when it does, they'll start to wonder if the scriptwriter gave a fuck about ANYTHING.

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Disastrous ambiguity

Talking of the possibly impending Grexit, what an unfortunate sentence The Economist chose to conclude its leader article on the ongoing Greek monetary crisis:

This marriage is not worth saving at any price.

A quirk of English syntax and semantics makes this radically ambiguous.

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"There's not a player who doesn't deserve it less"

Cited by Nick Miller, "Stuart Bingham shocks Shaun Murphy in World Snooker Championship final", The Guardian 5/5/2015:

Misnegation or (un-)compliment?

[h/t Paweł Nowak]

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It's not for (lack of (not)) trying

Andrew Hood, "With second at Amstel Gold, Valverde confident for remaining Ardennes races", Velo News 4/19/2015 (emphasis added):

Perhaps Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will never win the Amstel Gold Race. It’s not for trying. And for the third time in his career, he was on the final podium Sunday, behind a superb Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step), who relegated Spain’s “Green Bullet” to second in the Dutch classic.

Francisco Almeida writes to suggest that there's an under-negation here, since the usual expression is "It's not for lack of trying".

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"A year ago, we don't win tonight".

Ron Stack writes:

Here is Manager Terry Collins on the Mets' victory over the Marlins last night: “A year ago, we don’t win tonight. It’s a different mentality in our clubhouse now."  

I'm almost certain LL has covered this time-shifted present tense but since I don't even know what to call it I couldn't do much of a search.  

So, what is it? And why does it sound right but look strange? And why does it seem (anecdotally, anyway) to be so popular among coaches and managers?

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No, totally

Kathryn Schulz, "What part of 'No, totally' don't you understand?", The New Yorker 4/7/1015:

Not long ago, I walked into a friend’s kitchen and found her opening one of those evil, impossible-to-breach plastic blister packages with a can opener. This worked, and struck me as brilliant, but I mention it only to illustrate a characteristic that I admire in our species: given almost any entity, we will find a way to use it for something other than its intended purpose. We commandeer cafeteria trays to go sledding, “The Power Broker” to prop open the door, the Internet to look at kittens. We do this with words as well—time was, spam was just Spam—but, lately, we have gone in for a particularly dramatic appropriation. In certain situations, it seems, we have started using “no” to mean “yes.”

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Coherence award for Stephen King

Jan Freeman, "Stephen King scores a grammar win", Throw Grammar from the Train, 3/20/2015:

Stephen King, novelist and resident of Maine and (sensible man!) Florida, has refuted the Maine governor’s claim that King had left the state to escape oppressive taxes.

"Governor LePage is full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green," the best-selling author told a local radio station. "Tabby and I pay every cent of our Maine state income taxes, and are glad to do it. We feel, as Governor LePage apparently does not, that much is owed from those to whom much has been given."

For me, that boldface sentiment is the news here: In its long quotation history, it has rarely been rendered grammatically. “From whom much is given, much is expected” – from John F. Kennedy Jr. — is just one mangled example. You'd think a Bible quotation would get some respect, but it turns out the human mind has a hard time supplying the right number of prepositions and pronouns to say what this maxim intends.

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Don't eat the water

Sveinn Einarsson spotted this photograph of a scene at one of the refugee camps on the Chinese side of the China-Burma border on Tencent News:

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Duang

In China (and around the world among China watchers), everybody's talking about this ungainly syllable.  "Duang" surfaced less than a week ago, but already it has been used millions and millions of times.

"The Word That Broke the Chinese Internet" (2/27/15) by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

"'Duang' is Everywhere on the Chinese Internets, Here’s What It Means" (2/27/15) by Charles Liu

"Chinese netizens just invented a new word, and it's going insanely viral" (2/28/15) by Ryan Kilpatrick (English text part of the way down the page)

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The number of fucks you need to not give

Several people have directed my attention to Stuart Cantrill, "A quantitative analysis of how often Nature gives a fuck", 2/8/2015. That's Nature the magazine, not Nature-the-material-world-and-its-phenomena. In graphical form:

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The Shanghai Stampede: incident or accident?

On New Year's Eve, a fatal stampede broke out on the Bund in Shanghai.  Many people died (see below for a discussion of the total number) and many more were injured, some seriously.

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