Archive for Humor

Linguistic tools for the supervillain

In celebration of Geoff Pullum's 700th LLOG post, "World domination and threats to the public", we'll be meeting for a quiet (virtual) drink this evening. But meanwhile I'll quietly suggest that Geoff has been too hasty in joining Randall Munroe at xkcd in assigning to the field of Linguistics a "low likelihood of being a crucial tool for a supervillain, and low probability of anything breaking out of the research environment and threatening the general population".

In fact LLOG posts have described at least two fictional counter-examples  over the years, and I expect that commenters will be able to suggest some others.

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World domination and threats to the public

Linguistics is in the most desirable quadrant according to today's xkcd: low likelihood of being a crucial tool for a supervillain, and low probability of anything breaking out of the research environment and threatening the general population.

But I'm not at all sure that everything is positioned correctly. Molasses storage should be further to the right (never forget the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919); dentistry should be moved up (remember Marathon Man); robotics in its current state is too highly ranked on both axes; and entomology, right now (October 18, 2017), in addition to being slightly too low, is spelled wrong. Lots to quibble about, I'd say. But not the standing of linguistics as a safe thing to work on.

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"Artist=President Barack Obama"

Alex Jones, contact LLOG immediately! Never mind Pizzagate, never mind Sandy Hook, never mind the FEMA concentration camps, never mind the fake moon landings. This morning I stumbled on evidence, lying around in plain sight, for a systematic program of deception so huge — and yet so improbable — that even InfoWars listeners will find it hard to believe: Donald Trump is actually Barack Obama in disguise.

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The less… umm… fewer the better

Someone with a knowledge of usage controversies, German language, and modern political history put this on the web somewhere; I haven't been able to find out who or where:

[Hat tip: Rowan Mackay]

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Cartoonist walks into a language lab…

Bob Mankoff gave a talk here in Madison not long ago.  You may recognize Mankoff as the cartoon editor for many years at the New Yorker magazine, who is now at Esquire. Mankoff’s job involved scanning about a thousand cartoons a week to find 15 or so to publish per issue. He did this for over 20 years, which is a lot of cartoons. More than 950 of his own appeared in the magazine as well. Mankoff has thought a lot about humor in general and cartoon humor in particular, and likes to talk and write about it too.

The Ted Talk
On “60 Minutes”
His Google talk
Documentary, "Very Semi-Serious"

What’s the Language Log connection?  Humor often involves language? New Yorker cartoons are usually captioned these days, with fewer in the lovely mute style of a William Steig.  A general theory of language use should be able to explain how cartoon captions, a genre of text, are understood. The cartoons illustrate (sic) the dependence of language comprehension on context (the one created by the drawing) and background knowledge (about, for example, rats running mazes, guys marooned on islands, St. Peter’s gate, corporate culture, New Yorkers). The popular Caption Contest is an image-labeling task, generating humorous labels for an incongruous scene.

But it’s Mankoff's excursions into research that are particularly interesting and Language Loggy.  Mankoff is the leading figure in Cartoon Science (CartSci), the application of modern research methods to questions about the generation, selection, and evaluation of New Yorker cartoons.

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Looming epidemic of total inability to even?

"Millennial Diagnosed With Tragic Inability To Even", Babylon Bee 9/30/2016:

BOTHELL, WA—According to reports, local 22-year-old Chloe Kowalski’s world was torn apart Thursday morning, as the millennial barista was diagnosed with a rare disease that prevents her from having the ability to even. […]

“We’ve never seen a case quite like this before,” Dr. Elizabeth Eden told reporters gathered outside the clinic where Kowalski’s devastating diagnosis was handed down. “Many millennials will experience short bouts of not being able to even for several seconds, often triggered by a cute video of a cat or other small animal, or perhaps something online that’s ‘so relatable.'”

“But Kowalski—she just can’t even. She may never even again, at least not without assistance,” she said, shaking her head grimly, according to reporters.

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Bubble tea blooper

That's all, folks.

[h.t. Jichang Lulu]

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East Asian Trumponyms

Last year, we looked at various transcriptions of Trump's surname:

Now, in "Why China Won’t Pressure North Korea as Much as Trump Wants," New Yorker (Sept. 19, 2017), Evan Osnos writes:

Chinese intellectuals have taken to joking that “Telangpu”—which is one of the Chinese pronunciations of Trump’s name—sounds like “te meipu,” which means clueless or lacking a plan.

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C is for contrafibularity

Better late than never:

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Distributed confusion

Tweeted yesterday by the magazine Bon Appétit (which is apparently not the same as the restaurant management company):


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Hurricane naming policy change

I think it's becoming clear that alternating male and female personal names to individuate Atlantic tropical cyclones is not a good idea. These storms are becoming far too nasty. Calling a storm "Harvey" makes it sound like your friendly uncle who always comes over on the Fourth of July and flirts with your mom. And "Irma" sounds like a dancer that he once knew when he was in Berlin. Science tells us that these devastating meteorological events are probably going to get worse in coming years. (Ann Coulter says that as a potential cause of increased violence in hurricanes, climate change is less plausible than God's anger at Houston for having elected a lesbian mayor; but let's face it, Ann Coulter is a few bricks short of a full intellectual hod.) Hurricanes need uglier names. You can't get Miami to evacuate by telling people that "Irma" is coming.

Accordingly, next year the National Hurricane Center is planning to name tropical cyclonic storms and hurricanes after unpleasant diseases and medical conditions. Think about it. The state governor tells you a hurricane named Dracunculiasis is coming down on you, you're gonna start packing the station wagon. So as the season progresses, the following will be the named storms in 2018.

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Dognitive Science

Since "Dognition" is now a Coursera MOOC as well as a company, it might be time to revisit an old, obscure and bitter joke — Garrison Cottrell, "Approaches to the Inverse Dogmatics Problem: Time for a Return to Localist Networks?", Connection Science 1993:

The innovative use of neural networks in the field of Dognitive Science has spurred the intense interest of the philosophers of Dognitive Science, the Dogmatists. The field of Dogmatics is devoted to making sense of the effect of neural networks on the conceptual underpinnings of Dognitive Science. Unfortunately, this flurry of effort has caused researchers in the rest of the fields of Dognitive Science to spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to make sense of the philosophers, otherwise known as the Inverse Dogmatics problem (Jordan, 1990). The problem seems to be that the philosophers have allowed themselves an excess of degrees of freedom in conceptual space, as it were, leaving the rest of us with an underconstrained optimization problem: should we bother listening to these folks, who may be somewhat more interesting than old Star Trek reruns, or should we try and get our work done?

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Helpful Google

The marvels of modern natural language processing:

Michael Glazer, who sent in the example, wonders whether Google Translate has overdosed on old Boris and Natasha segments from Rocky and Bullwinkle:


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