Archive for Language and the media

"Love in Translation" (with footnotes)

In the Aug. 8 & 15 issue of The New Yorker, staff writer Lauren Collins has a "personal history" piece entitled "Love in Translation" (subtitled, "Learning about culture, communication, and intimacy in my husband's native French"). It's very nicely written and will surely be of interest to Language Log readers. But Collins relies on some linguistic research without giving proper credit, an oversight I've tried to rectify below.

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Seven nouns

"Pilot Fish Project English Channel crossing bid begins", BBC 8/5/2016. Turns out this is two French guys aiming to cross the channel in a home-made pedal-powered submarine:

Two men attempting to cross the English Channel in a pedal-powered submarine have begun their journey. French engineers Antoine Delafargue, 33, and Michael de Lagarde, 36, plan to travel 135 nautical miles (250km) from Plymouth to St Malo. The vessel, which the pair designed and built themselves, left on Friday, travelling at 3km/h (1.86mph), a spokesman told the AFP news agency. Their trip is expected to take seven days.

John Coleman, who sent in the link:

A record? Pretty much totally opaque to me.

He means for consecutive nouns in a headline, I think, not distance traveled in a home-made pedal-powered submarine. Though presumably that will also be a record.

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Campaign for promoting falls awareness

The Health Promotion Board (Bǎojiàn cùjìn jú 保健促进局) of Singapore has launched a campaign to promote awareness of falling.  Here's the poster they circulated in conjunction with the launch:


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Clamp down on English

In media reporting on current events in China, two of the most conspicuous terms one encounters are "clamp down" (qǔdì 取缔, qiābā 掐巴, qiánzhì 钳制, etc.) and "crack down" (yánlì dǎjí 严厉打击 / 嚴厲打擊 [to show how different simplified and traditional forms of the characters can be]).  There are also numerous other similar terms with related meanings in common use, such as those for "ban; forbid; outlaw; suppress; repress".  These clamp/crack downs and bans can be directed toward Islam, Christianity, feminism, human rights advocates / lawyers, any form of dissent, and so forth.  Yet no other clamp down has occasioned so much spontaneous and widespread opposition from those representing a broad spectrum of a large segment of the general population as the recent announcement of the new rules governing online video games.

"Mobile game devs are very pissed about China’s new censorship rules", by C. Custer, Tech in Asia (7/6/16)

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Transformer Trump

From an anonymous colleague:

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Don't be awkward

Mark Liberman's discussion of an absurd modifier placement rule in the Associated Press Style Book reminded me of an ancient and not particularly funny joke that, the way I first heard it, is based on an offensive stereotype of gay men. I was going to explain on the Chronicle of Higher Education's language blog Lingua Franca a couple of months ago, but to my surprise I was forbidden to do so. The Chronicle lives in abject terror of offending gays or blacks or women or Asians or prudes or any other identifiable section of its readership that might take offense at something (and they may be right to be afraid: this week I was accused of ageism by a commenter for using the phrase "between 60 and 70 years old" as part of a description of an imaginary person). I'll tell you here on Language Log what I was going to say, and you can decide.

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The NYT catches up…

Or maybe David Crystal does — as reported in Dan Bilefsky, "Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style", NYT 6/9/2016. Better late than never, in any case.

For some background, see

"The new semiotics of punctuation", 11/7/2012
"Aggressive periods and the popularity of linguistics", 11/26/2013
"Generational punctuation differences again", 8/1/2014
"Query: Punctuation in personal digital media", 2/23/2015

And even: Jessica Bennett, "When your punctuation says it all (!)", NYT 2/27/2015

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What other people might put it


Comedian Doug Stanhope is unable to sleep at night over the way his friend Johnny Depp is being pilloried as a wife-abuser by Amber Heard (she says he hit her in the face with a cell phone); so he did the obvious thing any friend would do: he submitted an expletive-laced article about his angst over the situation to The Wrap. (It has 9 shits, 7 fucks, and one asshole, all cloaked in partial dashification by The Wr––'s cautious c–nsors.) But this is Language Log, not Celebrity Embarrassment Log, and my topic here is syntax. Stanhope and his girlfriend Bingo "have watched Amber Heard f––– with him at his weakest — or watched him at his weakest from being f–––ed with," and he now believes it is time to "tell the f–––ng truth" about his friend:

Bingo and I were at Johnny's house for most of that Saturday until just before the alleged assault. We assumed initially that his dour mood was because of his mother's death the day before. But he opened up in the most vulnerable of ways that it was not only his mother, but that Amber was now going to leave him, threatening to lie about him publicly in any and every possible duplicitous way if he didn't agree to her terms. Blackmail is what I would imagine other people might put it, including the manner in which he is now being vilified.

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Two dozen, two thousand, whatever

For Times Insider, David W. Dunlap has an article about some of the more entertaining errors and corrections that have graced the pages of The New York Times: "The Times Regrets the Error. Readers Don't."

Among the goofs is this one from a Q&A with Ivana Trump that appeared in the Oct. 15, 2000 New York Times Magazine:

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Twice, or a hundred times, whatever …

"Figures reveal ethnic variations in prevalence of alcohol-related diseases", The Scotsman 5/9/2016 [emphasis added]:

Irish people living in Scotland are more than twice as likely to end up in hospital or die from alcohol-related diseases as white Scottish people, research has found.

The risk for women from a mixed ethnic background is almost 100 times that of white Scots, scientists concluded. […]

Compared to the white Scottish population, women of mixed ethnicity are 99% more likely to to [sic] require hospital stays or die from alcohol-related disease.

This is enough to warn us that we're dealing with a hard-to-believe level of numerical illiteracy. Apparently the writer interpreted "99% more" as meaning "almost 100 times" more — and no editor caught it, either at The Scotsman or at any of the other papers that reprinted the story.

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Correction of the year

…and maybe of all time, at least in quantitative terms. In the New York Times Magazine, 4/10/2016:

An article on March 20 about wave piloting in the Marshall Islands misstated the number of possible paths that could be navigated without instruments among the 34 islands and atolls of the Marshall Islands. It is 561, not a trillion trillion.

A trillion trillion is presumably 1024, and 561 is 5.61 x 102, so the original number was off by a factor of about 1.78 x 1022, which is more than a thousand times greater than the estimated number of grains of sand in all the beaches and deserts of planet earth.

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China's last leader

In "Xi Jinping Brought Down a Notch by an Unlikely Agent: A Typo" (NYT, Sinosphere 3/14/16), Austin Ramzy details what appears to be a fatally embarrassing typographical error.  Instead of referring to Xi Jinping as "Zhōngguó zuìgāo lǐngdǎorén 中國最高領導人 (China's supreme leader)", an article by reporter Zhāng Zhōngkǎi 張鐘凱 from Xinhua, China's state news agency, called him "Zhōngguó zuìhòu lǐngdǎorén 中國最后領導人 (China's last leader)".

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Huge media flap over a headline in China

An article by Mimi Lau and Nectar Gan in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) (3/02/16) details a cause célèbre that occurred on the front page of a major newspaper in China on February 20.  The article is titled:

Editor at liberal Chinese newspaper fired over Xi front page
Veteran journalists punished over headline combination seen as veiled criticism of president’s call for state media loyalty to the Communist Party

Here's the offending front page of the Nanfang dushi bao 南方都市报 (Southern Metropolis Daily):

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