Archive for Language and the media

PR push for "Voice Stress Analysis" products?

A Craigslist ad posted 20 days ago — "Seeking a Blog Writer for Voice Stress Analysis Technology":

We are looking for someone to ghostwrite blog posts and articles for a large company that specializes in computer-aided voice stress analysis technology or CVSA. We want you to primarily discuss the scientific research backing it up and the psychophysiological processes involved in implementing the technology. Basically, we want you to describe how it works, why it works, and why it is an effective technology, with everything backed up by scientific research and facts. […]

We are seeking a motivated, passionate, enthusiastic ghostwriter to craft blog articles ranging loosely from 750-900 words, that are valuable and informative to our target audience. Our audience for this client is law enforcement agencies, military, intelligence, immigration, and any other section of our government or private law practices that will be using investigative interviewing methods to screen subjects.

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Active seeming: dumb grammar fetishism yet again

Last January 21 The Economist actually printed a letter I wrote pointing out that how wirelessly to hack a car was a ridiculous way to say "how to wirelessly hack a car," and resulted from a perverted and dimwitted obeisance to a zombie rule. But did they actually listen, and think about changing their ways? They did not. I have no idea how they manage to publish a beautiful magazine every Thursday night when they are so mentally crippled by eccentric 19th-century grammar edicts that they will commit syntactic self-harm rather than go against the prejudices of a few doddering old amateur grammarians in the middle 1800s who worried about the "split infinitive." Take a look at this nonsense from the magazine's leader in the issue of April 22, about UK prime minister Theresa May's chances of having more flexibility after the general election she has called:

With a larger majority she can more easily stand up to her ultra-Eurosceptic backbenchers, some of whom seem actively to want Britain to crash out.

Seem actively??

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"Far beyond unconventional levels of dishonesty"

For the Washington Post opinion blog The Plum Line, Greg Sargent wrote: "The events of this week are revealing with a new level of clarity that President Trump and the White House have ventured far beyond unconventional levels of dishonesty."

Obligatory screenshot:

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Beyond fluff

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VX in Chinese

By now practically the whole world knows that Kim Jong-nam, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un's older half-brother, was killed by the extremely toxic nerve agent called VX.  VX is much more potent than sarin, which was used by the Aum Shinrikyo cult to kill 12 people and injure thousands of others in the Tokyo subway in 1995.  Apparently, it's not clear why this series of nerve agents is called "V" ( "Victory", "Venomous", or "Viscous" are some of the possibilities).  Since research on these agents is restricted primarily to the military, not much is known about them in civilian circles.  Whatever the "V" stands for, and besides VX, other agents in the series include VE, VG, VM, and VR.

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Look at me

In his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, President Trump received contradictory instructions about where to look.

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Malapropism of the week

Jessica Taylor & Danielle Kurtzleben, "This week in Trump's 'Alternative Facts'", NPR 1/29/2017

Less than 24 hours after White House press secretary had spouted numerous falsehoods about inauguration crowd size and more, Kellyanne Conway went on NBC's "Meet the Press" to defend him. In the process, the counselor to President Donald Trump coined a phrase that's now deigned to follow Trump throughout his presidency — "alternative facts."

I imagine that they meant "destined", not "deigned".

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The temperature is struggling

I commented back in 2008 on the ridiculous vagueness of some of the brief weather forecast summaries on BBC radio ("pretty miserable by and large," and so on). I do sometimes miss the calm, scientific character of American weather forecasts, with their precise temperature range predictions and exact precipitation probabilities. In recent days, on BBC Radio 4's morning news magazine program, I have heard an official meteorologist guy from the weather center saying not just vague things like "a weather front trying to get in from the north Atlantic," or "heading for something a little bit warmer as we move toward the weekend," but (more than once) a total baffler: "The temperature is going to be struggling." What the hell is that about?

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Editing wars at London Bridge Street

As of the time of writing, you only get one hit if you ask Google to show you all the pages on the web containing the word sequence in order legally to minimise. That lone hit leads you to an anonymous leader in The Times (there is a paywall) in which this sentence occurs:

Companies are gaming the system in order legally to minimise their tax liability.

The highly unnatural syntax has the hallmark of having been created or edited by someone who would rather poison a puppy than allow an adverb to intrude between infinitival to and its following plain-form verb. But in this case there is more to the story.

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One last (?) piece of nonsense

Callum Borchers, "Count Obama’s references to ‘I’ and ‘me’ while you can, conservative media", WaPo 1/18/2017:

For eight years, tracking Obama's use of the personal pronouns "I" and "me" has been a cherished ritual in the conservative media — one small way to promote the idea that the president is self-centered and therefore out of touch with all the decent, hard-working folks out there. […]

Last week, the Daily Caller dinged Obama for referring to himself 75 times in his farewell address.

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Metaphor of the month

Joshua David Stein, "The Loud, Empty Word That Defines President-Elect Trump", The Daily Beast 1/1/2017:

Perhaps because there are so many casualties already accruing and so much damage already being done, it has gone less noted than it should that among the incoming Trump administration’s most endangered victims is the English language itself. Nouns shudder. Adjectives cower. The entire edifice of grammar quivers with fear as January 20th nears.

Of course, one could make the argument that at a time when all the groceries are up in the air, we must prioritize what to catch. Climate change and war are eggs; perhaps language is a loaf of bread.

But language, as any linguist, Lacanian or deliman knows, is the sandwich within which stuff our world. If a thing doesn’t fit inside our words, we can’t bring it to our mouths. It is fundamentally indigestible.

I'm going to guess that that there's a missing "we" in "the sandwich within which (we) stuff our world".

And are "linguist, Lacanian or deliman" three epistemological alternatives? Or are Lacanian and deliman subtypes of linguist? Compare "cow, sheep or goat" to "cow, Guernsey or Holstein"…

Morris Halle once told me about a lecture in Paris after which someone — perhaps a Lacanian — asked him suspiciously to define his philosophical orientation. Morris's answer: "Does a shoemaker need a philosophical orientation? If so, then that's mine as well." In this case, I guess I'll follow Morris in identifying myself as an adherent of the deliman school. Though someone that I respect has been trying to persuade me that Jacques Lacan was not, in Noam Chomsky's words, "an amusing and perfectly self-conscious charlatan". So stay tuned.

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Noun pile of the week

"Corpse sex kill threat prisoner gets 45 year sentence", BBC 12/14/2016.

This is a case where even after reading the story, the structure is unclear.

Is it [[[corpse sex] [kill threat]] prisoner] ?

Or [[[corpse [sex kill]] threat]] prisoner] ?

Or has the BBC decided, in this post-truth era, to go post-syntax as well?

Philip Cummings, who sent in the link, commented that

I call these ‘noun car crashes’ particularly when I have to attempt to translate them into Irish and work out the appropriate case relationships between the various nouns.

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To more than justify the split infinitive

As long ago as 1914, an article by the grammarian George O. Curme made the point that more than can modify the verb of an infinitival complement, and since it must be adjacent to the verb, that actually forces a split infinitive: shifting the more than modifier to anywhere else creates clear ambiguity. I found a small measure of comfort in seeing that even The Economist, so often driven to deleteriously unnatural phrasing in its efforts to avoid split infinitives, acknowledges this grammatical imperative. In the November 26 issue for 2016 (online here) we read:

A string of purchases of A380s, starting in 2008, helped traffic to more than double to 51m in 2015.

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