Archive for Humor

Monumental laughing face

From an anonymous reader, who spotted this photograph on Instagram, where it was posted by nanorie, who has given her permission to repost it:

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Trump tea

A friend of mine who does research on the history of tea in China recently shared the following photo in a WeChat group that focuses on Chinese food culture:

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New Year's resolutions

Today's xkcd is distressingly close to not being a joke:

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He comfortable! He quickly dry!

A neighbor of mine, a respectable woman retired from medical practice, set a number of friends of hers a one-question quiz this week. The puzzle was to identify an item she recently purchased, based solely on what was stated on the tag attached to it. The tag said this (I reproduce it carefully, preserving the strange punctuation, line breaks, capitalization, and grammar, but replacing two searchable proper nouns by xxxxxxxx because they might provide clues):

ABOUT xxxxxxxx
He comfortable
He elastic
He quickly dry
He let you unfettered experience and indulgence. Please! Hurry up
No matter where you are. No matter what you do.
Let xxxxxxxx Change your life,
Become your friends, Partner,
Part of life

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The hippo bottom of us

One of the most successful weekly essays I wrote in an early sixties college class on modern English poetry was about T. S. Eliot's "The Hippopotamus", the first two (out of nine) stanzas of which read thus:

THE BROAD-BACKED hippopotamus
Rests on his belly in the mud;
Although he seems so firm to us
He is merely flesh and blood.

Flesh and blood is weak and frail,            5
Susceptible to nervous shock;
While the True Church can never fail
For it is based upon a rock.

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Trevor Noah reflects on language and identity

In my introductory undergraduate course on English words, and in most undergraduate introductory courses on linguistics, students are invited to reflect on language and identity—how the way you speak communicates information about who you are—which they are typically very interested in. This isn't my beat, professionally speaking, but as a linguist I have a duty to help my students think through some of these issues (and, if they get interested, point them in the right direction to get really educated). To get started, I often play this one-minute clip of a Meshach Taylor Fresh Air interview from 1990, which is usually a good starting point for some discussion.

But Fresh Air (yes I'm a Terry Gross fangirl) also recently ran an interview with the biracial South African host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah, which contained this ten-minute motherlode of a reflection on multilingualism, language choice, racism, acceptable targets of mimicry, vocabulary size, Trump's communicative abilities, resentment of accented speech… whew. I'm just going to leave it here for your edification and enjoyment. Maybe one of our more sociolinguistically expert Language Loggers will provide some more detailed commentary later. For my part — well, I just invite you to think about what kind of 500-word essay you'd write for a Ling 101 class with this 10-minute clip as your prompt.

To hear the whole interview, or read the transcript, visit the NPR Fresh Air page.

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"Arrival" gets the wug treatment

Linguists have been having a field day with the movie "Arrival" (see: "'Arrival' arrives"). From Ollie Sayeed on Facebook, here's a playful take on the shot of Louise Banks (Amy Adams) holding up a whiteboard with the word "HUMAN" for the aliens' perusal.

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Another fake AI failure?

The "silly AI doing something stupidly funny" trope is a powerful one, partly because people like to see the mighty cast down, and partly because the "silly stupid AI" stereotype is often valid.

But as with stereotypes of human groups, the most viral examples are often fakes. Take the "Voice Recognition Elevator"  skit from a few years ago, which showed an ASR system that was baffled by a Scottish accent, epitomizing the plight of Scots trapped in a dehumanized world that doesn't understand them. But back in the real world, I found that when I played the YouTube version of the skit to the 2010 version of Google Voice on my cell phone, it correctly transcribed the whole thing.

And I suspect that the recent viral "tuba-to-text conversion" meme is another artful fraud.

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Advances in tuba-to-text conversion

My dad accidentally texted me with voice recognition…while playing the tuba

(h/t Chris Waigl)

[Update: Mark Liberman suggests this might be some artful fakery. See: "Another fake AI failure?"]

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"Thank you for your contribution"

Yesterday evening I wound up spending several hours in the Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, and the result was a brilliant idea. Or maybe an idle fantasy — you decide.

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"Fatso Kim the Third" blocked in China

On microblogs and on social media in China, it was well nigh universal to call the ruler of North Korea Jīn sān pàng 金三胖 ("Kim Third Fat" [referring to Kim Jung-un, third in the line of Kims following his father Kim Jung-il and his grandfather Kim Il-sung]) — until the North Korean government caught wind of it and complained to the Chinese government:

"North Korea begs China to stop calling Kim Jong Un fat" (FOX News, 11/15/16)

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The silence of Language Log

Our much-valued readers will all be wondering why Language Log has so far said nothing about the result of the US presidential election. That is an understandable question. Most of the newspapers seem to have managed to get out editions for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; but not us.

The answer is that we are in the position of Jack Benny in an old, old radio comedy program long ago, in a sketch where a highwayman demands of him: Your money, or your life!

There is no answer. So the highwayman repeats his threat: Your money, or your life!

And the legendarily stingy protagonist cries out, "I'm thinking it over!"

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China's "core" leader

I've been reading countless reports about how Xi Jinping was made the "core" leader of China during the recently concluded meeting (6th Plenum) of the CCP, e.g.:

"China’s Communist Party Declares Xi Jinping ‘Core’ Leader

"China's Ruling Party Endorses Xi as 'Core Leader' After Meeting" (RFA, 10/27/16)

"Down to the core:  Xi Jinping gets a new label, but no more power: In China, a year of political infighting lies ahead" (The Economist, 10/27/16)

"China’s Xi Jinping Tightens His Hold on Communist Party:  Officials at conclave designate the president as the ‘core’ of the leadership, using title conferred on Mao Zedong " (WSJ, 10/27/16)

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*Notice, in the photograph accompanying this article (and many other articles), all the members of the Standing Committee, seated at the front of the hall facing us, raise their hands in exactly the same way (angle, height, position of thumb versus other fingers, etc.).  The other members of the Politburo, with their backs to us, also match the posture of the Standing Committee members, but not with such exactitude.

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