Archive for Words words words

Flabbering

Peter Mucha, "Lottery legend Joan Ginther bet flabbering sums on scratch-offs", philly.com 7/6/2014:

For years, people who dream of beating the lottery have puzzled over the amazing case of Joan Ginther, who made headlines around the world by scratching off “10MILL” on a $50 instant ticket in June 2010 to win her fourth multimillion-dollar prize. 

Skeptics wondered if she cheated or had an ingenious system for pinpointing winners. After all, Ginther received a Ph.D. from Stanford and has lived for years in Las Vegas. News reports at the time, citing mathematicians, fueled the fire: They put Ginther's chances of four such wins at 1 in 18 septillion. Remarkably, all four of her winners were purchased in or near her tiny hometown of Bishop, Texas. [...]

Finally, answers have been found.

A series of discoveries based on painstaking analysis by Philly.com of newly obtained Texas Lottery records, with the help of experts, has led to a surprising conclusion: Basic gambling principles — like card counting in blackjack, money management in poker, and timing in progressive slots — may have inspired Joan Ginther to buy a flabbergasting number of $20 to $50 tickets, perhaps 80,000 worth $2.5 million or more.

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Headbanging and hairfloating

Ariyan Islamian et al., "Chronic subdural haematoma secondary to headbanging", The Lancet 5-11 July 2014:

A 50-year-old man presented to our neurosurgical department in January, 2013, with a 2 week history of constant worsening headache affecting the whole head. He had no history of head trauma, but reported headbanging at a Motörhead concert 4 weeks previously. His medical history was unremarkable and he denied substance misuse. Neurological examination and laboratory studies, including coagulation screening, were normal. Cranial CT showed right-sided chronic subdural haematoma with pronounced midline shift (figure). He underwent burr hole evacuation of the haematoma and closed system subdural drainage for 6 days after surgery.1 His headache resolved and he was discharged home after 8 days.

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Suspect

Keith Ablow, the Fox News Channel's resident expert on psychiatry, on Outnumbered, 6/26/2014, explaining why the World Cup is a plot to distract the masses from Benghazi or whatever:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I'm suspect. Uh I am suspect. Because here's the thing,
Um why at a time when there're so many national issues that-
and international issues that are of such prominence,
I- I'm a little suspicious of yet another bread and circus routine.
Let's roll out the marijuana, pull back the laws, and
get people even more crazy about yet another entertainment event.

Since this is Language Log rather than Paranoid Politics Log, my interest here is not the content of Dr. Ablow's outburst, but its form: specifically, his use of suspect to mean suspicious.

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Adam Gopnik gets it

Adam Gopnik, "Word Magic", The New Yorker 5/26/2014:

These questions, about the hidden traps of words and phrases, are the subject of what may be the weirdest book the twenty-first century has so far produced: “Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon,” a thirteen-hundred-page volume, originally edited in French by the French philologist Barbara Cassin but now published, by Princeton University Press, in a much altered English edition, overseen by the comp-lit luminaries Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra, and Michael Wood. How weird is it? Let us count the ways. It is in part an anti-English protest, taking arms against the imperializing spread of our era’s, well, lingua franca—which has now been offered in English, so that everyone can understand it. The book’s presupposition is that there are significant, namable, untranslatable differences between tongues, so that, say, “history” in English, histoire in French, and Geschichte in German have very different boundaries that we need to grasp if we are to understand the texts in which the words occur. The editors, propelled by this belief, also believe it to be wrong. In each entry of the Dictionary, the differences are tracked, explained, and made perfectly clear in English, which rather undermines the premise that these terms are untranslatable, except in the dim sense that it sometimes takes a few words in one language to indicate a concept that is more succinctly embodied in one word in another.

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Incoherence is in our DNA

Commenting on Victor Mair's reference to Xi Jinping's statement that "There is no gene for invasion in our blood", Bob Ladd wrote

Surely what Xi meant was simply "It's not in our DNA to invade others and seek hegemony over the world". People say things like that in English all the time without being genetic determinists (or indeed, without even having much of a clue what DNA is).

I agree with Bob that people do say things like that in English all the time these days. The Oxford Dictionaries (American English) entry gives the gloss "The fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable", and the examples

diversity is part of the company’s DNA
men just don’t get shopping—it’s not in our DNA

But that's not the whole story. A bit of web search revealed that the interpretation given to "DNA" in such statements is a strange blend of ideas about essential character, effortful transformation, and contagious inspiration. This popular adaptation of the term "DNA" is simultaneously essentialist, Lamarckian, and not only seen as determinative of culture but as essentially equivalent to it.

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Birthday words

The OED has a "birthday words" feature:

Do you know which words entered the English language around the same time you entered the world? Use our OED birthday word generator to find out! We’ve scoured the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to find words with a first known usage for each year from 1900 to 2004. Simply select the relevant decade and click on your birth year to discover a word which entered the English language that year.

Please note that the dates given for these words refer to the current first known usage of the word. The OED team is continuously researching the histories of words (something you may be able to help with), and it’s therefore possible that we will find an earlier sense of the words during our research.

It's been available since December of last year, but I just learned about it today.

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Analytics, Prior and Otherwise

Analytics is all the rage. Thus Keith Pompey, "Sixers aide immerses Brown in analytics", Philadelphia Inquirer 4/7/2014

Brett Brown is inherently curious.  

The first-year 76ers coach was eager to learn as much as possible about the data that tell us where every player is during every possession of an NBA game. It's called analytics, and the Sixers are among the NBA franchises that are shifting toward basing major decisions on data and model-driven analysis.  

"There's always the thing that they call unintended consequences," said Brown, who was introduced to analytics this season. "That's where my curiosity combined with, yeah, you know, there's a bit of defiance in me that I don't believe it. Prove it. And what about this? What about that?  

"And if you can get through all those type of layers, I say, 'Wow.' And I feel like I've improved."  

So much so that the 53-year-old is fond of Lance Pearson, who deals with advanced analytics and statistical scouting for the Sixers. Pearson was hired away from Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky., where he was an assistant coach and special assistant in analytics.  He has a Ph.D. in computational neuroscience from Boston University. Pearson also has bachelor's degrees in computer science, mathematics and philosophy from Kentucky.

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Holacracy

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Led astray by the corpus of memory: a response to Hendrik Hertzberg

The following is a guest post by Ammon Shea, a researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary's Reading Program and formerly a consulting editor for American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press.


Hendrik Hertzberg has made a series of claims recently on the New Yorker web site ("Nobody Said That Then!") about the ostensible inaccuracy of the language used in the television show Masters of Sex. His main contention is that many of the characters' utterances are improbable, asserting that certain words and phrases were not in use at the time that the show takes place (the mid-1950s). One of the problems with making bold and declarative statements about the origins of specific words is that these words have a nasty habit of first appearing much earlier or later than memory or intuition would attest.

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Rocking the snark

Today's Doonesbury:

This is actually a re-run of a strip from 1/8/2013, and not everyone got it then:

Apologies for the non-sequitur, but in today’s Doonesbury strip a character uses the phrase “to rock the snark”. Does anyone know what this phrase means?

Nobody answered the question on that 2013 comment thread, but we're here to offer lexicographic help to those who may still be puzzled a year later.

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Medieval ontology on the streets of Oakland?

A recent Twitter exchange between William Gibson and Simon Max Hill:

Wouldn't it be wonderful if a term from high philosophy had really penetrated the street slang of Oakland? Alas, it looks like a case of false cognates.

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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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Hair

Earlier today, Ann Althouse noted President Obama's use of the expression "hair on X" to mean that X is complicated, from David Remnick's New Yorker interview. The two Obama quotes that she discusses:

Because, if you’re doing big, hard things, then there is going to be some hair on it — there’s going to be some aspects of it that aren’t clean and neat and immediately elicit applause from everybody.

Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge….

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More bee science

"Why Is This Bee Wearing a Sensor? Also, how did scientists get that sensor onto the bee in the first place?", The Atlantic 1/16/2014:

Australian scientists have devised a way to pinpoint the causes of the global die-off of bees that pollinate a third of the world’s crops: Attach tiny sensors to 5,000 honey bees, and follow where they fly.  

The sensors, each measuring 2.5 millimeters by 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inch by 0.1 inch), contain radio frequency identification chips that broadcast each bee’s location in real-time. The data is beamed to a server, so scientists can construct a three-dimensional model of the swarm’s movements, identifying anomalies in their behavior.  

Worker bees tend to follow predictable daily schedules—they don’t call them drones for nothing—leaving the beehive at certain times, foraging for pollen, and returning home along well-established routes. Variations in their routines may indicate a change in environment, such as exposure to pesticides.

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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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