Archive for Humor

The possessive Jesus of composition

Let me explain, very informally, what a predictive text imitator is. It is a computer program that takes as input a passage of training text and produces as output a new text that is composed quasi-randomly except that it matches the training text with regard to the frequencies of word or character sequences up to some fixed finite length k.

(There has to be such a length limit, of course: the only text in which the word sequence of Melville's Moby-Dick is matched perfectly is Melville's Moby-Dick, but what a predictive text imitator trained on Moby-Dick would do is to produce quasi-random fake-Moby-Dickish gibberish in which each sequence of not more than k units matches Moby-Dick with respect to the transition probabilities between adjacent units.)

I tell you this because a couple of months ago Jamie Brew made a predictive text imitator and trained it on my least favorite book in the world, William Strunk's The Elements of Style (1918). He then set it to work writing the first ten sections of a new quasi-randomly generated book. You can see the results here. The first point at which I broke down and laughed till there were tears in my eyes was at the section heading 'The Possessive Jesus of Composition and Publication'. But there were other such points too. Take a look at it. And trust me: following the advice in Jamie Brew's version of the book won't do your writing much more harm than following the original.

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Talk amongst yourselves

Please, talk to each other. It's important to linguists that there should be plenty of chat. We need language live, on the hoof. Millions of spoken word tokens everywhere, so that we can (for example) compare Donald Trump's amazingly high proportion of first-person singular pronouns to the average for non-narcissists like typical Language Log readers. tubechat

However, beware of engaging in chat to strangers on the subway if you are in London. A new campaign for people to wear a "Tube chat?" button when traveling on London Underground trains, intended to provoke random conversation with other passengers, has been met with horror and disdain by the misanthropic curmudgeons who use the services in question. No chat please; we're Londoners.

[Comments are turned off out of respect for readers in London.]

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Fraudulent number agreement

I continue to be puzzled by the fact that phishers are unable to manage simple number agreement:

Um, "there are recent update in our security features"?  And did they never learn about comma splices? "This is simply for your safety online, after your account update normal banking activities will resume."

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Strictly correct plurals of flower names

It has come to my attention that many laypeople, even Language Log readers, are using incorrect plurals for flower names. "Geraniums" indeed! "Crocuses", for heaven's sake! Please get these right. There follows a list of 30 count nouns naming flowers, together with their approved grammatically correct plurals. Don't use incorrect plurals any more. Shape up.

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Annals of Rediscovery

Harry Collins, Willow Leonard-Clarke, Hannah O'Mahoney, "Um, er: How meaning varies between speech and its typed transcript":

We use an extract from an interview concerning gravitational wave physics to show that the meaning of hesitancies within speech are different when spoken and when read from the corresponding transcript. When used in speech, hesitancies can indicate a pause for thought, when read in a transcript they indicate uncertainty. In a series of experiments the perceived uncertainty of the transcript was shown to be higher than the perceived uncertainty of the spoken version with almost no overlap for any respondent. We propose that finding and the method could be the beginning of a new subject we call 'Language Code Analysis' which would systematically examine how meanings change when the 'same' words are communicated via different media and symbol systems.

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Harambe McHarambeface

Strange happenings in the Jinhua zoo, Zhejiang, China:

"Has a Chinese zoo called a gorilla Harambe McHarambeface? Claim that poll decided animal’s name sweeps the web" (Daily Mail, 9/13/16)

  • Confusion over the naming of a gorilla at a zoo after a 'huge public vote'
  • Newborn 'christened' at Jinhua zoo in China's central Zhejiang province
  • Total of 73,345 votes were cast for Harambe McHarambeface 
  • Name is reference to gorilla killed in US after boy fell into its enclosure

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What's in the sachet?

At my hotel here in Brno, Czechia, the shampoo comes in small sachets, manufactured in Düsseldorf, labeled with the word denoting the contents in a long list of suitable European Union languages. I can't tell you which languages they picked, for reasons which will immediately become apparent. Here are the first four:

  1. Shampoo
  2. Shampoo
  3. Shampooing
  4. Shampoo

Just so you're sure.

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Cantonese then and now

Carmen Lee sent in two items pertaining to Cantonese.

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Kindly do the needful

A phishing spam I received today from "Europe Trade" (it claims to be in Wisconsin but its address domain is in Belarus) said this:

Good Day sir/madam,

I am forwarding the attached document to you as instructed for confirmation,

Please kindly do the needful and revert

Best regards
Sarah Griffith

There were two attachments, allegedly called "BL-document.pdf" and "Invoice.pdf"; they were identical. Their icons said they were PDF files of size 21KB (everyone trusts PDF), but viewing them in Outlook caused Word Online to open them, whereupon they claimed to be password-protected PDF files of a different size, 635KB. However, the link I was supposed to click to open them actually led to a misleadingly named HTML file, which doubtless would have sucked me down to hell or sent all my savings to Belarus or whatever. I don't know what you would have done (some folks are more gullible than others), but I decided I would not kindly do the needful, or even revert. Sorry, Sarah.

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Tom Wolfe discovers language

"In Tom Wolfe's 'Kingdom,' Speech Is The One Weird Trick", NPR Weekend Edition Saturday 8/27/2016:

One of America's most distinguished men of letters says he believes that speech, not evolution, has made human beings into the creative, imaginative, deliberate, destructive, and complicated beings who invented the slingshot and the moon shot, and wrote the words of the Bible, Don Quixote, Good Night Moon, the backs of cereal boxes, and Fifty and Shades of Grey [sic].  

The Kingdom of Speech is Tom Wolfe's first non-fiction book in 16 years. Wolfe tells NPR's Scott Simon that speech is "the attribute of attributes," because it's so unrelated to most other things about animals. "We've all been taught that we evolved from animals, and here is something that is totally absent from animal life," he says.

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Unpermitted erections

Yesterday morning at 8:00 a.m. local time, in five cities around the U.S., the anarchist collective INDECLINE erected five copies of a nude polychrome statue of Donald Trump. The New York City copy went up in Union Square, but was removed after about two hours by the Parks Department, whose spokesman Sam Biederman explained that "NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small".

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Never not stop… uhh… Come again?

One of the shows in the upcoming Edinburgh Festival Fringe, by the three-man Australian musical comedy ensemble The Axis of Awesome, is called "Won't Ever Not Stop Giving Up."

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Germanglish

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