Archive for Writing

Multiscriptal graffiti in Berlin

Gábor Ugray took this photo last week outside a Turkish-run Italian restaurant in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, a diverse mix between run-down and hip:

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More on Dior's "Quiproquo" cocktail dress

Last week (6/5/15), we examined the fantastic calligraphy on a dress created by the great French fashion designer, Christian Dior (1905-1957), that is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

"Christian Dior's 'Quiproquo' cocktail dress and the florid rhubarb prescription written on it"

During the course of the discussion carried on in the comments to the post, many fascinating details about the dress and its former owner were brought to light.

I am pleased to report that two members of the staff at the Met have kindly provided additional information that sheds further light on this most impressive cultural artifact.

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Budapest restaurant

Blake Shedd sent in this photograph of a Japanese restaurant in Budapest called "Tokio":

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Moar Verbs

A couple of days ago, Geoff Pullum noted that William Zinsser's On Writing Well echoes the Strunkish advice that "Most adverbs are unnecessary" and "Most adjectives are also unnecessary" ("Awful book, so I bought it", 3/21/2015). I share Geoff's skepticism about this anti-modifier animus, and indeed about all writing advice based on parts of speech.

But it occurred to me to wonder whether (various types of) good and bad writing actually do tend to differ in how much they use various parts of speech — and in particular, whether there's any evidence that bad (or at least less accessible) writing tends to use more adjectives and adverbs. Given how pervasive part-of-speech writing advice is, I decided to waste an hour exploring the question empirically.

The results are a bit surprising.  At least in this small and conceptually-limited pilot exploration, I found that writing regarded as bad (and perhaps also certain kinds of technical writing) tends to have more adjectives but fewer adverbs, and more nouns but fewer verbs.

The "more nouns and fewer verbs" effect seems to be especially strong — but I've never seen any writing guide that tells us to "write with adverbs and verbs, not adjectives and nouns".

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Awful book, so I bought it

A long time ago (it was 2010, but so much has happened since then) I noted here that Greg Mankiw recommended to his Harvard economics students not just the little book I hate so much (The Elements of Style), but also William Zinsser's book On Writing Well. About the latter, I said this:

I actually don't know much about Zinsser's book; I'm trying to obtain a copy, but it is apparently not published in the UK. What I do know is that he makes the outrageous claim that most adjectives are unnecessary. So I have my doubts about Zinsser too.

Well, last Thursday, as I browsed the University of Pennsylvania bookstore (I'm on the eastern seaboard in order to give a lecture at Princeton on Monday), I spotted that a copy of the 30th anniversary edition of Zinsser was on sale at the bargain price of $8.98. Should I buy it? I flipped it open by chance at page 67: "Use active verbs unless there is no comfortable way to get around using a passive verb…" Uh-oh! More passivophobia. I've definitely got a professional interest in hatred of passives.

I turned the page and saw "ADVERBS. Most adverbs are unnecessary" and "ADJECTIVES. Most adjectives are also unnecessary." Of course! I remember now that I tried to skewer this nonsense in "Those who take the adjectives from the table", commenting on a quotation from Zinsser in a book by Ben Yagoda. Zinsser only uses five words to say "Most adjectives are also unnecessary," but one of them (unnecessary) is an adjective, and another (also) is an adverb.

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More on "duang"

A couple of weeks ago, we had an extensive discussion of Jackie Chan's famous expostulation about the wondrous effect of his shampoo that went viral on the Chinese internet.

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Hong Kong-specific characters and shorthand

Joel Martinsen found this photograph on the microblog of Wáng Dàyǔ 王大禹:

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Year of the ovicaprid

According to the Chinese zodiac, the coming New Year is referred to as yángnián 羊年, but there's a problem:  what animal are they referring to?  Is it the "year of the ram", the "year of the sheep", the "year of the goat", or something else?

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Myopia in East Asia

[The following is a guest post by Dr. Ian Morgan of the Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia and Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China.  It is in response to "Chinese characters and eyesight" (11/12/14), which generated a lot of interest and discussion, and which references the work and views of Dr. Morgan.]

I came across your blog and the comments on the relationship between Chinese characters and myopia quite recently, and I thought it was worth a quick response.

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Error-laden phishing attempts

Phishers trawling for email account names are generally smart enough to pull all sorts of programming tricks, forging headers and obtaining lists of spammable addresses and setting up arrangements to capture login names and passwords obediently typed in by the gullible; but then they give themselves away with errors of grammar and punctuation that are just too gross to be perpetrated by the authorized guys at the communications and technology services unit.

I received a phishing spam today that had no To-line at all (none of that "undisclosed recipients" stuff, and no mention of my email address in it anywhere). It looked sort of convincing in its announcement that webmail account holders would have to take certain steps to ensure the preservation of their address books after being "upgraded to a new enhanced Outlook interface". (My own university has, tragically, been induced to do an upgrade of this kind to its employee email services.) But the linguistic errors in the message begin with the 13th character in the From line (that second comma is wrong). I reproduce below the raw text of what I received, stripping out only the locally generated receipt and spam-checking headers (and by the way, this message—spam though it is—succeeded in getting a spam score of 0).

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SERE

Michael Kaan writes:

I was looking up information on the SERE program after watching Zero Dark Thirty, and noticed the odd patch the program has for its insignia:

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Miracle

This signpost is from a building near the subway station closest to Nathan Hopson's apartment in Nagoya:

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Kanji of the year 2014

As chosen by ballots to the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Public Interest Foundation (Nihon Kanji Nōryoku Kentei Kyōkai 日本漢字能力検定協会, more commonly known as Kanken 漢検), the annual "Kanji of the Year" (kotoshi no kanji 今年の漢字) for 2014 is zei 税 ("tax"), with 8,679 (5.18% of the total) votes.

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