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2016 Oxford Dictionaries WOTY: Post-Truth

The Oxford Dictionaries 2016 Word Of The Year is post-truth, which they define as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief". Here's their graph of its recent rise in frequency over the past seven months:

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Algorithms: Threat or Menace?

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (see also here)

… was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer during the Abbasid Caliphate, a scholar in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad.

In the 12th century, Latin translations of his work on the Indian numerals introduced the decimal positional number system to the Western world. Al-Khwārizmī's The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing presented the first systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations in Arabic. He is often considered one of the fathers of algebra. He revised Ptolemy's Geography and wrote on astronomy and astrology.

Some words reflect the importance of al-Khwārizmī's contributions to mathematics. "Algebra" is derived from al-jabr, one of the two operations he used to solve quadratic equations. Algorism and algorithm stem from Algoritmi, the Latin form of his name. 

Al-Khwarizmi flourished in the early 9th century A.D., but algorithms — step-by-step procedures for solving problems by well-defined rules — have been around for a lot longer, e.g. Euclid's algorithm for computing the greatest common divisor of two numbers.

I bring this up because of a lexical change in progress, whereby algorithm is apparently being redefined to mean something like "one of the mysterious and scary AI programs that are invading our lives". At least that's the meaning implicit in the BBC World Service program "Algorithms: Should We Worry?" —

Artificial intelligence is taking over everything from medical diagnosis to legal due process. Rob Young asks if the lack of transparency and risk of error are causes for concern.

Plus, Iran! Also, Arabic!

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Don't let 'bigly' catch on

Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoon creator and diehard Trump promoter, has taken to the semi-jocular practice of adopting the mishearing of Trump's much-loved adjunct big-league, and using bigly as if it were a real adverb ("I just watched the debate on replay. Trump won bigly. This one wasn't close"). Adams is kidding, I think, but the mishearing is very common: by May 5, bigly was getting over 70,000 hits in the Google News index. I'm worried it may catch on, and we'll wake up some morning not only with the orange-quiffed sexist boor in the White House but with bigly added to the stock of adverbs in standard English.

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A non-apology for the ages

David Fahrenthold, "Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005", The Washington Post 10/7/2016:

Donald Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation caught on a hot microphone, saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” according to a video obtained by The Washington Post.

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I'll leave the psychology and politics of rage-tweeting to others — my concern is its morphology.

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Pick a word, any word

To access an article in the Financial Times yesterday I found myself confronted with a short market-research survey about laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Answer three our four layers of click-the-box questions, and I could get free access to the article I wanted to look at. A reasonable bargain: clearly some company was prepared to pay the FT for access to its online readers' opinions. And at the fourth layer down I faced a question which asked me to choose a single word that comes into my mind when I think of a certain Microsoft product.

My choice, from all the tens of thousands of words at my disposal, and the word I picked would go straight into the market research department of the one corporation, above all others, for whose products I have the greatest degree of contempt. Just choose that one evocative word and type it in, and I would be through to my article. A free choice. Which word to pick?

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Strictly correct plurals of flower names

It has come to my attention that many laypeople, even Language Log readers, are using incorrect plurals for flower names. "Geraniums" indeed! "Crocuses", for heaven's sake! Please get these right. There follows a list of 30 count nouns naming flowers, together with their approved grammatically correct plurals. Don't use incorrect plurals any more. Shape up.

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Donald Trump Jr., in a telephone interview on 1210 WPHT talk radio, 9/15/2016:

They're trying to make sure that the moderators
are ultimately not fair to my father during the debate
and all of them understand that hey
you're part of the left and the media has been her number one surrogate in this
without the media
uh this wouldn't even be a contest
but the media has
built her up they've let her slide on every you know indiscrepancy
on every lie on every
you- D N C uh you- in-
game trying to get Bernie Sanders out of the thing I mean
if Republicans were doing that they'd be warming up the gas chamber right now

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What's in the sachet?

At my hotel here in Brno, Czechia, the shampoo comes in small sachets, manufactured in Düsseldorf, labeled with the word denoting the contents in a long list of suitable European Union languages. I can't tell you which languages they picked, for reasons which will immediately become apparent. Here are the first four:

  1. Shampoo
  2. Shampoo
  3. Shampooing
  4. Shampoo

Just so you're sure.

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Horribles and deplorables

Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" is destined to become one of the lasting catchphrases of the campaign season.

Clinton's use of the phrase (which she says she now regrets*) appeared in a speech delivered at a fundraiser on Friday night:

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.

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And now the cyber is so big

From Donald Trump's 9/6/2016 Town Hall in Virginia Beach VA:

Michael Flynn: and- and to stay- to stay on ISIS a little bit because this is a really- I think this is an important topic and it's certainly at the- it's- it's one of the national security threats that our country faces today
you have described at times
different components of a strategy, military, cyber, financial
and ideological could you just expand on those four a little bit

Donald Trump: well that's it and you know cyber is becoming so big today it's become a thing uh something that
a number of years ago a short number of years ago wasn't even
a word and
now the the cyber is so big and you know you look at what they're doing
with the internet
how they're
taking recruiting people through the internet and part of it is the psychology because so many people think they're winning
and uh you know there's a whole
big thing even today psychology where CNN came out with a big poll
their big poll came out today that Trump is winning it's good psychology ((you know))
it's good psychology

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Japan: crazy over portmanteaux

No matter where I go these days, I hear young people shouting to their friends, "I'm playing Pokémon Go", which they pronounce "pokey-mon go".  It would be an understatement to say that, for the past few weeks, Pokémon Go has been a veritable craze.  Yet most people who play the game probably do not realize that the name "Pokémon" is a Japanese portmanteau based on two English words:  poketto ポケット ("pocket") + monsutā モンスター ("monster"). 

"What's in a name — Pikachu, Beikaciu, Pikaqiu?" (5/31/16)

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Cutesy hairdresser names

I've heard it said that among the retail establishments most addicted to cutesy punning business names are hairdressing salons. I mean, you don't find law practices called Law 'n' Order to Go, do you? Or a hardware store called Get Hard? Or a butcher's called Meat and Greet? But with hairdressers… Well, I don't know all that many myself; just about 150 or so that I've personally seen the signs for…

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