Archive for September, 2008

Another take on the presidential debates

Irregular Webcomic has its own view of the U.S. presidential debates:

(Hat tip to Bruce Webster.)

More drama here than we've seen in the actual debates.

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"Babbling points" from all over

A few days ago, in discussing Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin ("The phonetics of flop sweat", 9/26/2008), I quoted the reaction "Those aren't talking points; they're babbling points". But in Couric's 9/29 interview with Governor Palin and Senator McCain together, things went differently, in a way that deserves notice.

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Blogs as places

Andrew Gelman wrote to ask "Do you have any idea why blogs are often considered to be 'places' (rather than 'things')?", with a link to a post at his weblog that explains

Henry Farrell referred here to his blog as a "place." Which seemed funny to me because I think of a blog as a "thing." Henry replied:

That's the way that I [Henry] think about blogs (or at least group blogs and blogs with comments) – places where people meet up, chat, form communities, drift away from each other etc.

My analogy was blog-as-newspaper, the self-publishing idea, and I'm not used to thinking of a newspaper, or even a listserv, as a place. I think there is an aspect of the analogy that I'm still missing.

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Words for snow on Mars?

NASA is reporting that the Mars lander has observed snow falling, though it vaporizes before it reaches the ground. NASA is silent about how many words the Martians have for snow.

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Belgian patriotism

In response to a recent Language Log post that mentioned Belgium as the New Jersey of Europe ("Willimantic", 9/27/2008), Cosma Shalizi wrote to draw my attention to the Belgian joke embedded in Robert Pinsky's poem "Impossible to Tell".

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On the name desk

My posting on Clark Hoyt's column on the NYT's practices in referring to people by name has elicited interesting commentary, some of which I'll talk about here.

There were two sets of Times practices Hoyt discussed: the use of "courtesy titles" (that is, Title + LN [last name], in Mrs. Clinton or Senator Clinton, rather than LN alone — or, of course FN [first name] alone) in non-first mentions of someone; and the use of middle names, as in Barack Hussein Obama.

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Where's Zippy?

Zippy is pursued by electronic communications and seeks unavailability:

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I don't live on Main Street

Speaking of the soon-to-be-approved bailout plan: I've frankly gotten pretty tired of the constant references to "Main Street" (generally if not exclusively as opposed to "Wall Street") in discussions of the bailout. It's not that I don't understand the metonym (and why it might have once sounded like the perfect phrase to oppose "Wall Street" with), I just don't find it very effective — that, or the relative novelty of it (for me) wore off very, very quickly and now it just sounds cliché and, quite frankly, devoid of content.

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A syntax quiz for our regular readers

In today's lead story in the New York Times ("Breakthrough Reached in Negotiations on Bailout"), John McCain is quoted as saying on ABC's "This Week":

This is something that all of us will swallow hard and go forward with.

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Taking Sunday off

Because of scheduled work on power lines in the building where the Language Log server sits, we'll be off the net between midnight and about 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 28.

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A correlate of animacy

For the last couple of days, I've been in Chicago at an NSF-sponsored workshop on "animacy and information status annotation", organized by Annie Zaenen, Cathy O'Connor and Gregory Ward.

A traditional and characteristic example of the role of animacy in English syntax is the way it affects the choice between the two ways of expressing genitive relations, X's Y vs. the Y of X.  In general, the apostrophe-s structure is said to be preferred for animate Xs, while inanimates tend to go with the of-phrase. I'm a believer in Yogi Berra'a dictum that you can observe a lot just by watching, especially if you count things. So during the wrap-up session this afternoon, I thought I'd try using some simple web searches to probe this animacy-genitive relationship.

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The price of profanity

On NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday today, Scott Simon interviewed Joe Eszterhas (famed as having been "one of the dirtiest, drinkingest writers in Hollywood"), on the occasion of the publication of his book Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith.  Early in the interview there was the following exchange:

Simon: … at some point you thought that maybe throat cancer was some kind of divine punishment for the things you said over the years.

Eszterhas: Well, I always had such a big, nasty, and usually obscene mouth that I would scatter with various F-bombs and other forms of tough expressions. And when this happened I thought, "you really are paying the price for all those years of firing that kind of stuff at people". I don't think that now.

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No comment

The most recent xkcd:

Couldn't happen to anyone we know, of course.

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Willimantic

Last night's somewhat tame debate drove Gail Collins into a speculative reverie ("McCain: Bearish on Debates", 9/27/2008). Her ending:

Imagine what would happen if a new beetle infested the Iowa corn crop during the first year of a McCain administration. On Monday, we spray. On Tuesday, we firebomb. On Wednesday, the president marches barefoot through the prairie in a show of support for Iowa farmers. On Thursday, the White House reveals that Wiley Flum, a postal worker from Willimantic, Conn., has been named the new beetle eradication czar. McCain says that Flum had shown “the instincts of a maverick reformer” in personally buying a box of roach motels and scattering them around the post office locker room. “I can’t wait to introduce Wiley to those beetles in Iowa,” the president adds.

On Friday, McCain announces he’s canceling the weekend until Congress makes the beetles go away.

Barack Obama would just round up a whole roomful of experts and come up with a plan. Yawn.

Apparently Ms. Collins thinks of Willimantic as the only place in America more remote and intrinsically funny than Wasilla, Alaska.

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A domain name is not a gambling device

The Governor of Kentucky is attempting to seize 141 domain names associated with internet gambling sites on the grounds that internet gambling is illegal in Kentucky. On the State's ex parte motion, without a hearing, a Franklin County court ordered [pdf document] the transfer of all 141 domain names to the State of Kentucky. This has aroused considerable controversy, for reasons including the following:

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