Archive for Language and the media

"It eats salty": middle voice on "Top Chef"

On a recent episode of Bravo's competitive cooking show "Top Chef" ("Spines and Vines," 12/10/15), the contestants had to make a dish with uni (sea urchin) and pair it with a wine. One contestant, Angelina Bastidas, received the following less-than-glowing appraisal of her dish from the show's host, Padma Lakshmi, and guest judge Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine.

AB: Over here it's a play on an Italian cacio e pepe. I made uni butter. And the wine that I chose today is chardonnay.
DC: The uni obviously has a lot of salt.
PL: Yeah.
DC: It's one of the characteristics, and the dish…
PL: It eats salty.
AB: Sorry about that. I apologize.
PL: Thank you.

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Decisive undecideds

From Arthur Stock, a picture of a headline in an actual paper newspaper:

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How to turn one out of five into three out of four

Towards the end of last year, there was a bit of a fuss in the UK about the role of alcohol in hospital costs. Thus Sarah Knapton, "Three in four people in A&E at weekend are there because of alcohol: 70 per cent of people are admitted to emergency units at the weekend as a result of drinking", The Telegraph 12/21/2015 — illustrated with the rather atypical picture on the right.

And there was plenty of other coverage, e.g. "Alcohol-related A&E cases rise to 70% of workload at weekends", Daily Mail 12/21/2015; Mike Doran, "Alcohol responsible for up to 70% of all A&E admissions as experts renew minimum unit price calls", The Mirror 12/21/2015; Annalee Newitz, "Drunk people account for 70% of weekend emergency room visits in UK city: Drinking binges are now a scientifically measurable phenomenon", Ars Technica 12/22/2015.

But there's just one little wrinkle: the actual rates that the study found (of alcohol involvement in weekend emergency-room visits) were more like 20%. So how did the journalists get from "one in five" to "three in four"? Well, basically in the same way that we're allowed to conclude that in 1986, the rate of space-shuttle explosions was one per week. After all, there was one week in that year (the last week of January) when there was an explosion. And in the cited study, there was one weekend hour (2:00-3:00 a.m.) when a bit over 70% of the patients were measured with a non-zero breath alcohol content.

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Pressing the House of Commons swiftly

There is a designated staff member whose job at The Economist is to make the magazine (my favorite magazine) look ridiculous by moving adverbs to unacceptably silly positions in the sentence. She is still at work. This is from the December 12 issue, p. 58, in an article about preparations for a referendum next year on whether Britain should abandon its membership in the European Union:

Most pollsters reckon a later vote is likely to boost the leave campaign. Avoidance of delay was a big reason why the government this week pressed the House of Commons swiftly to overturn a House of Lords plan to extend the referendum franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds.

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Correction of the year?

From the article "Trump brushes off widespread backlash" by Paul Koring, The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition), Dec. 9, 2015, p. A13:

And the inevitable correction (The Globe and Mail, Dec. 11, 2015, p. A2):

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You ain't no Muslim

You ain't no Muslim, bruv! The phrase already gets more than 650,000 hits on Google in the UK, and the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv gets about 1,670,000. It is becoming a mantra, a talismanic incantation for conjuring up goodwill in a world where more and more attempts are being made to foment hatred between Muslims and everyone else.

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Future in Headlinese

Funny headline on a Yahoo news story: "Ford stops using Takata air bag inflators in future vehicles". To me that says that they used to use Takata air bags in future vehicles. How did that work?

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K-pop English

[This is a guest post by Alex Baumans]

I've been following the Kpop scene for a bit, and I noticed that there is a special flavour of English being used on websites and the like. This is different from the English being used in the songs themselves, which is also worthy of study. In the major websites (Koreaboo, Allkpop…) the English is basically OK. However, there are obviously specific Korean terms (oppa, maknae, aegyo), and English words that are used in a specific Kpop sense (visual, bias, schedule, stage…). This makes this English slightly strange, though not actually weird.

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Protection from Carson and Trump

"Donald Trump and Ben Carson ask for 24-hour secret service protection", The Guardian (Reuters) 10/19/2015 [emphasis added]:

“The Department of Homeland Security has now received official requests for secret service protection from both the Carson and Trump campaigns,” spokesman SY Lee said.  

The requests, if approved, would activate 24-hour protection from the two candidates, involving 260 agents, Fox News reported on Monday, citing unidentified sources.

[h/t Mark Dowson]


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Editorial square brackets

David Barstow and Suhasini Raj, "India Writers Return Awards to Protest Government Silence on Violence", NYT 10/17/2015:

On Tuesday, Mr. Modi for the first time directly addressed the Sept. 28 attack that left Mr. Ikhlaq dead. During an interview with the Bengali language newspaper Anandabazar Patrika, Mr. Modi called Mr. Ikhlaq’s death “really sad,” and emphasized that his Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., “never supports such incidents.”

But he also accused political opponents of trying to exploit Mr. Ikhlaq’s death. “The B.J.P. has always opposed pseudosecularism,” he said. [say what he means by pseudosecularism?] “Opposition regularly alleges B.J.P. of igniting communal flare.[flame?] But isn’t the opposition doing polarization now?”

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Rand Paul's "dumbass" comment

Two years ago, I posted about a flubbed joke on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update," wherein Taran Killam as historical critic Jebidiah Atkinson slammed FDR's Pearl Harbor address as "a speech that was so boring-ass." The joke as originally written probably referred to a "boring-ass speech," because "[adjective]-ass" almost always occurs attributively (pre-modifying a noun or noun phrase) and not as a predicate adjective. (Acceptability judgments of the predicative use will vary, of course.)

Attributive vs. predicative use of "[adjective]-ass" is relevant again this week, after Sen. Rand Paul was captured on camera being snarky about a daylong livestreaming event his campaign was recording. Asked if he was indeed still running for President, he said:

"I don't know — wouldn't be doing this dumbass livestreaming if I weren't. So yes, I still am running for President. Get over it."

Paul told Fox News today that the comment was intended to be sarcastic. As Talking Points Memo reported,

Paul, who took flak this week for a subdued appearance in a day-long livestream video produced by his campaign, told Fox's "America's Newsroom" that he was joking when he called the exercise "dumbass."

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The writing on the wall

Why won't they call in a linguist?

The producers of "Homeland," a TV spy drama, were filming a scene (shot in Berlin) in which one of the show's main characters walks through a refugee camp run by Hezbollah, and they employed a group of Arabic-speaking graffiti artists to daub the walls with authentic slogans saying "Muhammed is the greatest." (Presumably referring to the revered Arabian prophet, but sounding a bit more like an allusion to the celebrated American boxer; who knows.) But they forgot to hire a trusted Arabic-competent linguist to proofread. They had no idea what the artists had written on the set walls. It turned out to be slogans like "Homeland is not a series," "Homeland is racist," and "Homeland is rubbish." And those graffiti duly appeared on TV (whereupon the guerilla artists, not wanting their subversion to be missed, revealed what they had done).

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Noun pile history

From Alon Lischinsky:

In "Brit noun pile heds quizzed" (3/5/2009), you wondered when did British news media start writing headlines as long, complex noun compounds.

While I have nothing resembling a clear answer, I've just noticed that it must go back to the 1930s at least. In "The Professor's Manuscript", one of the stories published in her 1939 collection In the Teeth of the Evidence, Dorothy Sayers makes what's obviously an allusion to common practice:

Mr. Egg brought his mind back—a little unwillingly— from the headlines in his morning paper ("screen star's marriage romance plane dash"—"continent comb-out for missing financier"—"country-house mystery blaze arson suspicions"—"budget income-tax remission possibility"), and wondered who Professor Pindar might be when he was at home.

Items 1, 3 and 4 in the list are perfect examples of the sort of headline you discussed in that post. If only item 2 had been “missing financier continent comb-out”…

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