Archive for Language and culture

Mazel Tov, Molotov, whatever

Jessie Opoien, "The political pitfalls of cultural crossover: Scott Walker edition", The Capitol Times 12/10/2014:

In an undated letter unearthed by the liberal group One Wisconsin Now during the August release of documents from the first of two John Doe investigations related to the governor, Walker responded to a letter from Milwaukee attorney and chairman of the Wisconsin Center District Franklyn Gimbel.  

Walker told Gimbel his office would be happy to display a menorah celebrating "The Eight Days of Chanukah" at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, and asked Gimbel to have a representative from Lubavitch of Wisconsin contact Walker's secretary, Dorothy Moore, to set it up.  

The letter is signed, "Thank you again and Molotov."

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William Hazlitt on grammar

On a brief trip to London recently, I stayed in a small hotel named Hazlitt's, after William Hazlitt, who in 1830, the last year of his life, rented a small apartment in one of the buildings that the hotel now occupies. A copy of his 1802 self-portrait hangs by the registration desk, and there are various Hazlitt memorabilia scattered around, reminding me that I knew almost nothing about him.

Among the things that I thereupon learned about William Hazlitt is the fact that his family emigrated to Philadelphia in 1783, when he was five years old, on the first ship from Britain to America after the end of the Revolutionary War. They also spent time in Boston, where his father was involved in founding the first Unitarian church in America, before returning to England in 1786.

I also learned that in 1809 Hazlitt published A New and Improved Grammar of the English Tongue : for the use of Schools, In which the Genius of our Speech is especially attended to, And the Discoveries of Mr. Horne Tooke and other Modern Writers on the Formation of Language are for the first time incorporated. I haven't been able to find a copy of this work, but the Preface is available in the 1902 edition of his Collected Works, and contains some striking material.

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No word for fetch

By Drew Dernavich, originally published August 20, 2007, a cartoon addition to our No Word for X archive:

Or, to put it another way: "They have no words for anything, but they have no concept for 'fetch'."

[h/t Joan M.]

 

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Lexical bling: Vocabulary display and social status

A visitor from another galaxy, or perhaps just from another century, would notice that civilized people these days are obsessed with the rate of vocabulary display as a symbol of social status.  The latest symptom of this obsession is Matt Daniels, "The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop", May 2014:

Literary elites love to rep Shakespeare’s vocabulary: across his entire corpus, he uses 28,829 words, suggesting he knew over 100,000 words and arguably had the largest vocabulary, ever.  

I decided to compare this data point against the most famous artists in hip hop. I used each artist’s first 35,000 lyrics. That way, prolific artists, such as Jay-Z, could be compared to newer artists, such as Drake.

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Gotta catch 'em all

Don Seiffert, "Is it a drug, or is it a Pokemon?", bioflash 11/18/2014:

It was while trying to straighten up my 10-year-old son's room that I hit upon the answer to the age-old question of where do they come up with the names of new drugs.

The answer: It's got to be the same people who come up with the names of new Pokemon characters.

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Logic from the voice of the earth itself

On Friday, I gave a talk at the 46th Algonquian Conference. As the conference web page explains,

The 46th Algonquian Conference will be held in Uncasville, Connecticut, on the reservation of the Mohegan Tribal Nation.  This is the first time in 46 years that the conference will be held on sovereign Native territory.

The 46th Algonquian Conference coincides with the 20th Anniversary of the Mohegan Tribe winning its sovereignty through federal recognition.  The conference itself will be held in the Mohegan Sun Hotel and Convention Center at the Mohegan Sun Casino.

In our registration packet was a copy of Melissa Jayne Fawcett, The Lasting of the Mohegans, 1995.

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Women modifiers

Maddie York, "Why there are too many women doctors, women MPs, and women bosses", The Guardian 10/17/2014:

I am a subeditor at the Guardian. I am a woman. I am not a woman subeditor. But “woman” and its plural seem to be taking over the role of modifier, so that now, there is no such thing, as far as much of the media is concerned, as a female doctor, a female MP or a female chef. Instead you hear or read about a woman doctor, a woman MP and so on. […]

As far as the Guardian style guide is concerned, it is simply wrong to use “woman” and “women” in this way, because, it says, they are not adjectives.

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Matched guise among the tombstones

Lawrence Block's 1992 novel A Walk Among the Tombstones has been made into a recently-released movie. I haven't seen the movie, but in the book, the character TJ carries out what sociolinguists would call a "matched guise experiment".  This is a technique for measuring language attitudes by having the same speaker read a passage in two different ways, and asking hearers a series of questions about the speaker's intelligence, honesty, or whatever.

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Predictive poetry

A few years ago, people noticed that the predictive typing on Android smartphones could construct interesting phrases all on its own: "Your typical sentence", 6/13/2012. iOS 8 has caught up  — Geoffrey Fowler and Joanna Stern, "iOS 8 Keyboard Makes Hilarious 'Mad Libs' For You", WSJ 9/17/2014:

Now the latest version of Apple’s iPhone software, iOS 8, adds a layer of smarts on top of autocorrect called QuickType, predictive typing of a sort previously found on Android. Not only does it suggest spelling, it also suggests words you might want to type next. If you keep following its train of robotic thought, QuickType will form entire sentences on your behalf.

The result is so goofy that it is brilliant. For the last week, we—your WSJ personal technology columnists—have been conducting serious tests of the new iPhones and iOS 8, while also holding nonsensical auto-generated conversations with each other.

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Experience the power of the bookbook™

From Ikea and ad agency BBH:

And feel the force of Contrastive Focus Reduplication™.

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Somebody

Yesterday I was skimming the digital New York Times and clicked on the second-from-the-right item in the panel below, without noticing the "paid post" superscript:

This took me to an article about a new smartphone app called Somebody:

Here’s how Somebody works: when you send your friend or loved one a message through the app, it doesn’t go directly to them, but uses GPS to locate the Somebody user nearest to him or her. This person (probably a stranger) delivers the message verbally, acting as your stand-in.

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The once and future goddess

Geeta Pandey, "An 'English goddess' for India's down-trodden", BBC News 2/15/2011:

The Dalit (formerly untouchable) community is building a temple in Banka village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to worship the Goddess of the English language, which they believe will help them climb up the social and economic ladder.

About two feet tall, the bronze statue of the goddess is modelled after the Statue of Liberty.

"She is the symbol of Dalit renaissance," says Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit writer who came up with the idea of the Goddess of English.

"She holds a pen in her right hand which shows she is literate. She is dressed well and sports a huge hat – it's a symbol of defiance that she is rejecting the old traditional dress code.

"In her left hand, she holds a book which is the constitution of India which gave Dalits equal rights. She stands on top of a computer which means we will use English to rise up the ladder and become free for ever."

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Genres

In today's Bad Machinery, Shauna abandons powerviolence and decides against crustcore.

Some of you will recognize that these are names of musical genres, well enough established to have Wikipedia entries. Thus

Powerviolence […], is a raw and dissonant subgenre of hardcore punk.The style is closely related to thrashcore and grindcore.

and

Crust punk (often simply crust) is a form of music influenced by anarcho-punk, hardcore punk and extreme metal.

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