Archive for Humor

"We're updating our novel-length Terms of Service?"

Yesterday I got an email from airbnb.com, under the heading "We're updating our Terms of Service". It starts this way:

Hi Mark,

Our business and our community have grown, so we are updating our Terms of Service, Host Guarantee Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. These changes will be effective for all users on April 30, 2014. When you use our site on or after that day, we will ask you to agree to the new terms.

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Wantan soup for überman hubby

Here is a handwritten note left by a man for his wife:

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Welcome to China

In "Doubletalk of the month", Mark Liberman presents a virtuoso display of a woman skillfully mimicking the sounds and intonations of numerous languages.  You can do this kind of imitation with written forms as well.

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What're Ukraine About?

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Eighty-one Cantonese proverbs in one picture

From the "Cantonese Resources" blog:

Ah To 阿塗, a graphic designer and part-time cartoonist who is concerned about the survival of Cantonese in Canton and Hong Kong, has just published a comic called "The Great Canton and Hong Kong Proverbs" on Hong Kong independent media "Passion Times".


(Click to embiggen.)

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Phonemes, how do they work?

Robert Browning never had to apologize for his mistake, and no one asked him to resign. But he made it in a poem, and this was all before Twitter was invented, and he wasn't an American politician. (See "Twat v. Browning", 1/19/2005, for details.) Bob FitzSimmons, Virginia GOP treasurer, wasn't so lucky:

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More Metadata Muddles on Google Books

Mark's discovery of a mistitled Google Books entry—a book on experimental theater filed as a 2009 book on management—is entertaining but not that unusual. Like the other metadata mixups at Google books (involving authorship, genre classification and publication date, among other things) that I enumerated in a 2009 post "Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck," there are probably thousands of cases in which the metadata for one book is associated with an entirely different work. Or at least that's what induction suggests; Paul Duguid and I have happened on quite a number of these, some as inadvertantly comical as Mark's example. Clicking on the entry for a book called Tudor Historical Thought turns up the text of a book on tattoo culture, the entry for an 1832 work on the question of whether the clergy of the Church of England can receive tithes turns up a work by Trotzky, the entry for Last Year at Marienbad turns up the text of Sam Pickering's Letters to a Teacher, and so on (see more examples below the fold). What's particularly interesting about Mark's example, though, is that the work is similarly misidentified on Amazon and Abe Books, which indicates that for many modern titles, at least, the error is likely due not to "some (perhaps algorithmic) drudge on the Google assembly line," as Mark suggests, but to one of the third-party offshore cataloguers on which Google and others rely for their metadata.

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Lunatics, Lovers, and Metadata

Some (perhaps algorithmic) drudge on the Google Books assembly line has a (perhaps accidental) sense of humor. Tracking down a surprising apparent antedating of a piece of managerial jargon, I found this:


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Darling train tickets

In celebration of Valentine's Day, special commemorative train tickets for a trip between Dàlín (大林) and Guīlái (歸來) were a big hit in Taiwan this morning.

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How Sid Caesar learned double-talk

The obituaries for the great comic Sid Caesar invariably mention his proficiency in "double-talk," mimicking the sounds (but not the sense) of foreign languages. (On the phenomenon of double-talk, see Mark Liberman's posts on yaourter here, here, here, and here.) It turns out that this was a talent Caesar had cultivated ever since he was a boy clearing tables at his father's restaurant in multi-ethnic Yonkers.

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Year of the Whores

At the advent of the lunar New Year, I usually try to come up with something clever to celebrate the occasion. (See here, here, and here.) Perhaps because I was preoccupied with other things, I hadn't yet thought of anything suitable for the Year of the Horse. Fortunately, at the last minute, BBC came to the rescue and gifted me with this spectacular subtitle blunder:

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Opium rice

Karen Serago sent in the following photograph taken by her husband, Ben Yu, of a restaurant in Taiwan that specializes in duck dishes:

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"Because" with non-verbal complement

The American Dialect Society's recognition of because as Word of the Year has sparked a number of intriguing linguistic arguments. In its innovative use, because can take various different parts of speech as its complement: nouns, adjectives, interjections, and even adverbs. (See Tyler Schnoebelen's Idibon post for some corpus analysis.) While Geoff Pullum urges us to treat because as a preposition, regardless of its complement, Gretchen McCulloch has argued that we should be thinking of innovative because as a member of a "class of subordinating conjunctions that can relatively-newly take interjectionary complements." (The complements are "interjectionary" as long as they can serve as interjections, regardless of part of speech, like the adjective awesome or the adverb seriously.)

One of the most peculiar reactions to the ADS WOTY selection comes from "Stumblerette," a self-identified linguist who objects to the choice of because "because it is neither a word nor particularly zeitgeisty." Wait, because is not a word? In a previous post, Stumblerette explains that the selection "is stretching the meaning of the word 'word'" presumably because the innovative "because X" construction requires at least two words to work.

Or does it? On Facebook, Stephan Hurtubise shared a clip from last night's episode of "Parks and Recreation" demonstrating that because even works with non-verbal complements.

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Ambiguous Mandarin sentences

Ambiguity exists in all languages, especially if an author is not careful to forestall it.  On the other hand, writers and poets sometimes intentionally court it for literary effect, in which case there are at least Seven Types of Ambiguity.

Two literary attributes that are perhaps more salient in Mandarin than in many other languages are ambiguity and rhyme, the former because Chinese words are not strongly marked grammatically (e.g., hóng 紅 ["red"] can be an adjective, noun, or verb [dōngfāng hóng 東方紅 {"the east IS RED"}]) and the latter because of the huge number of homophones in the language.

Currently, a set of seven sentences has been circulating on the internet.  They are preceded by a notation which states that a high level test for foreign students of Chinese in 2013 included the following sentences, each of which the students had to explain in two different ways.  Before listing and translating the sentences, I should mention that it is not immediately obvious that each of the sentences can be interpreted in two different ways.  To a certain degree, I would compare the effect of reading these sentences to that of looking at optical illusions; sometimes you have to look a very long time before you can see both versions of the illustration, and sometimes you never see more than one version, no matter how hard you look.

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Lumpatious lexicography

In the latest episode of "Sam & Cat," a teen comedy on Nickelodeon, the plot takes a lexicographical turn. As Nickelodeon describes it,

Sam and Cat make a bet with the annoying older brother of a babysitting client that "lumpatious" is a real word. When they discover it is not, they must figure out how to get it in the dictionary.

Here's a clip:


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