Archive for Words words words

Xy McXface

Yesterday Google announced the open-source release of SyntaxNet,

an open-source neural network framework implemented in TensorFlow that provides a foundation for Natural Language Understanding (NLU) systems. Our release includes all the code needed to train new SyntaxNet models on your own data, as well as Parsey McParseface, an English parser that we have trained for you and that you can use to analyze English text.

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The world wants "bigly"

Back in February, we covered the whole Donald Trump big league → bigly business at length, and if you want details, go read that post: "Bigly", 2/26/2016.

But Trump continues to say things like

We're not going to lose, we're going to start winning again,
and we're going to win big league, believe me! [link]

And journalists, along with other members of the public, continue to hear him saying "we're going to win bigly" (70,400 hits in today's Google News index…).

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Obama and the end of the queue

Over the past few days the British media (newspapers and BBC news programs) have been talking about a crucially linguistic argument that President Obama is being manipulated, and literally told what to say, by the UK prime minister's office. (Links seem superfluous: the Google News UK edition will give you thousands of references.) The evidence comes from a single choice of lexical item.

During the two working days Obama spent in Britain, the main news-generating event was a news conference in which he directly addressed the issue of whether the UK should remain in the European Union or leave it. A key argument for those who believe in leaving the EU (the proponents of Brexit) has been that new trade agreements could readily be set up once the country was free from the shackles of EU membership. Specifically, a trade agreement could be readily set up with the USA. Not so fast, said Obama: the USA will continue its negotiating efforts aimed at setting up a trade agreement with the whole EU, and if the UK left that grouping (the largest single market in the world) it would "be in the back of the queue" if it applied to get a special UK/US trade agreement established.

The Brexit crew jumped on the use of the word queue. Americans talk about waiting in line, not waiting in a queue or queueing up. "The back of the queue" is characteristic British English, and no American would say any such thing, they insisted. Obama's remarks must have been prepared for him by British pro-EU politicians. Are the Brexiteers right?

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When did "a thing" become a thing?

Alexander Stern, "Is That Even a Thing?", NYT 4/16/2016:

Speakers and writers of American English have recently taken to identifying a staggering and constantly changing array of trends, events, memes, products, lifestyle choices and phenomena of nearly every kind with a single label — a thing. In conversation, mention of a surprising fad, behavior or event is now often met with the question, “Is that actually a thing?” Or “When did that become a thing?” Or “How is that even a thing?” Calling something “a thing” is, in this sense, itself a thing.

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Ask Language Log: Sticked/Stuck a landing?

From Charlie Clingen:

To stick a landing gone viral since last Friday. But where does it come from and which is right:   "SpaceX finally stuck a sea landing Friday, when the company's first-stage booster glided" (from an online news item) or "SpaceX finally sticked a sea landing Friday…"?

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When is Ex- ?

This title on a Reuters story on Yahoo gave me a double-take:

Ex-Heisman winner Troy Smith arrested on DUI and drug charge

There is no suggestion that the Heisman trophy award was ever rescinded. I think in my dialect, once a Heisman trophy winner, always a Heisman trophy winner. I've never heard anyone called an ex-Nobel Prize winner. Am I missing something, or is this really unusual usage? I think even O.J. Simpson is still a Heisman trophy winner.

But I can imagine that the line between where I clearly use ex- and where I don't might not be sharp. Ex-president, ex-spouse are clear. (Hmm, there's also 'former' in competition — that's what I would use for 'department head', not ex-.) I find myself sometimes starting to say "Some of our former Ph.D's (never ex-!!)", but then I usually stop and remove 'former'. Aha, they're our former students, but not our former graduates – they're our graduates forever.

But back to the Heisman trophy. Even if you only hold possession of the trophy for a year, actually or symbolically, you're still a trophy winner forever, aren't you?


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"Bless your heart"

Jessica Banov, "‘Bless your heart,’ unfiltered, in the national spotlight", Raleigh News & Observer 3/31/2016:

The phrase is served as the “icing” of Southern politeness, a subtle way to insult someone but without coming straight out and calling someone an idiot to his or her face.

“Bless your heart,” read the tweet that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley had just zinged at Donald Trump in response to an insult directed at her, creating a widespread reaction on Twitter.

As a linguist who revels in the nuances of language, Wolfram was thrilled with the three little words Haley used to answer the GOP presidential candidate’s bluster.

“It’s the perfect comeback,” Wolfram, a professor at N.C. State University, immediately told his wife. “In a sense, it shut Donald Trump off. How do you respond when someone says, ‘Bless your heart?’ It could be a sincere thing. But it’s not, of course.”

Or, as Wilmington-based columnist Celia Rivenbark sized up that particular Trump Twitter feud, Haley won that round.

“Perfectly executed,” Rivenbark said. “She can drop the mic and move on.”

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"How an eight-year-old boy invented a new word", BBC Trending 2/24/2016

A few weeks back, primary school teacher Margherita Aurora, in the small town of Copparo in central Italy, was intrigued when one of her students, Matteo, used an unfamiliar word in a written assignment.

Matteo described a flower as "petaloso" ("full of petals"). The word doesn't officially exist in the Italian dictionary, but grammatically it makes sense as a combination of "petalo" ("petal") and the suffix "-oso" ("full of").

The assignment got Aurora thinking – could the eight-year-old Matteo have invented a new word? With his teacher's help, the student wrote to the Accademia della Crusca – the institution that oversees the use of the Italian language – to ask for their opinion.

To their surprise, the pair got an encouraging reply. "The word you invented is well formed and could be used in the Italian language," one of the Crusca's top linguistic experts wrote. "It is beautiful and clear."

But, the linguist added, for a word to officially be part of the Italian language, a large number of people need to use it and understand its meaning. "If you manage to spread your word among many people who start saying 'What a petaloso flower this is!', then petaloso will have become a word in Italian."

Matteo's teacher was touched by the reply – "this is worth more than a thousand Italian lessons" she wrote on her Facebook account on Monday – and shared pictures of the letter. Inadvertently, she triggered a movement to do exactly what the Crusca had asked: make "petaloso" a widely known and used word.

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Fecal compounds

Donna Cassata, "Lindsey Graham: 'My Party Has Gone Batshit Crazy'", USN 2/26/2016:

Sen. Lindsey Graham is disgusted with the GOP's embrace of Donald Trump: "My party has gone batshit crazy."

In no-holds-barred remarks at a celebratory dinner Thursday night, the South Carolina senator and unsuccessful presidential candidate said the GOP has lost all semblance of sanity and predicted the party will suffer irrevocable losses in November if it backs Trump.

A set of video clips can be found here. The critical passage — which includes a dig at Hillary Clinton:

Well look how far you've come.
The most dishonest person in America's a woman.
Who's about to be president.
How could that be?
My party has gone batshit crazy.

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Jim Newell, "Is Donald Trump’s Favorite Term Bigly or Big League? You Make the Call", Slate 9/24/2015:

What is that word—or words—that Donald Trump throws into the middle of basically everything he says?

The consensus around the LLOG water cooler was "big league", but I don't think we ever wrote about it. The Federal News Service transcript of last night's verbal brawl agrees:

I will say this. Mitt Romney looked like a fool when he delayed and delayed and delayed. And Harry Reid baited him so beautifully. And Mitt Romney didn’t file his return until a September 21st of 2012, about a month-and-a-half before the election. And it cost him big league.

But lots of people are convinced it's "bigly":

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FOOD & BGVERAGGS, with a focus on naan / nang

The following three items might well have been included in the previous post on Chinglish, but that one got to be rather long and unwieldy, so I'm treating these separately.  In any event, I think that they merit the special treatment they are receiving here.

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Pussy and pusillanimous

Email yesterday from P.O.:

Professor Liberman, we need you. You're no doubt aware of Trump's recent comment, quoting a supporter. But now TPM has gone and printed a reader email linking 'pussy' to pusillanimous'.

I had never heard this before, and I'm fairly well-read. I did some google-sleuthing, and found that it has clearly been claimed in the past to be true and is often refuted by people who can't even

Can you help get to the bottom of this?

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Totally Word Mapper

Jack Grieve Twitter-based Word Mapper (see "Geolexicography", 1/27/2016) is now available as a web app — like totally:

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