Archive for July, 2009

"Cronkiter" update

As I reported here earlier this week, I used my most recent Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus to debunk a widely circulated myth about Walter Cronkite: that in Sweden (or Holland) news anchors are known as "Cronkiters" (or "Kronkiters"). I got the opportunity to talk about this linguistic legend on the NPR show "On the Media," airing this weekend and available online here. I also address the shaky claim that the word "anchorman" was coined for Cronkite in 1952, the topic of a recent piece I wrote for Slate. I'm starting to worry that I'm going to get a reputation as some sort of nitpicking Cronkite-hater, but I'd like to think Uncle Walter would appreciate my fact-checking of his mythos.

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Staff linguist

Mae Sander has passed on this fascinating story from the joint website of the Ghana Institute of Architects and the Architects Registration Council of Ghana. According to the story (attributed to Prof. Ablade Glover of the College of Arts of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi), every Ghanaian chief

has a linguist. He goes on errands to convey his master's ideas, or appears in public with him.

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War strikes lockouts

A publication agreement that was just presented to me for signature takes minimization of typographical clutter to a new extreme:

No rights shall revert if it is not possible to reprint or reissue the Work for reasons connected with any war strikes lockouts or circumstances beyond the Publisher's reasonable control.

The underlined part, clearly intended as a 4-member nominal coordination, is not a grammatical phrase at all.

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More possible than they can powerfully imagine

For an update on the British Chiropractic Association's libel suit against Simon Singh, see Ben Goldacre, "We are more possible than you can powerfully imagine", Bad Science, 7/29/2009.  After noting the general freedom-of-speech issue, and the specific public interest in open debate about medical claims, Ben adds:

But beyond whether it is right, there is the more entertaining issue of whether it was wise, and here it is hard to contain a sense of schadenfreude as the chiropractors’ world unravels.

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Essay question

A recent "joke of the day" from Comedy Central:

A crowded flight is cancelled, and a frazzled agent must rebook a long line of inconvenienced travelers by herself. Suddenly, an angry passenger pushes to the front and demands to be on the next flight, first class.

The agent replies, "I'm sorry, sir. I'll be happy to try to help you, but I've got to help these folks first."

The passenger screams, "Do you have ANY idea who I am?"

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Love to Die / Death

The photograph below, taken earlier this month in Beijing, shows some of the best English-language bloggers now writing about language and culture in China and Taiwan.

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Coming August 7

A reader asks why it is (as it seems to him) increasingly common for Americans to say "August seven" instead of "August seventh" or "August the seventh" for 08/07/09 ("Coming August seven to a theater near you!"). I have done no investigation on this (it would need intensive quantitative corpus study over dated corpora that do not have Google's propensity for collapsing common typographical variants). The reader may be wrong to think the practice has been increasing: the Recency Effect has not been repealed. So I offer nothing but the following observation. For some time there has been a trend toward abolishing typographical clutter in print ("Mr Jones" for "Mr. Jones"; even "ie" and "eg" for "i.e." and "e.g."), particularly though not exclusively in published American English; and American English also idiomatically eliminates various prepositions here and there (as in "See you Tuesday" for "See you on Tuesday"). If such abbreviatory practices led to writing "7" for "7th" or "the 7th", spelling pronunciation might be responsible for the resultant habit spreading in spoken American English.

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Inventory of snowclone postings

… on Language Log and my blog, available here.

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100 words for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

It's a trend: comix-ironic Whorfianism. Several readers have drawn my attention to the latest Diesel Sweeties:

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Boko Haram

Boko Haram has been in the news recently, e.g. Joe Boyle, "Nigeria's 'Taliban' enigma", BBC News, 7/28/2009:

They have launched co-ordinated attacks across northern Nigeria, threatening to overthrow the government and impose strict Islamic law – but who exactly are the Nigerian Taliban?

Since the group emerged in 2004 they have become known as "Taliban", although they appear to have no links to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Some analysts believe they took inspiration from the radical Afghans, others say the name is more a term of ridicule used by people in Maiduguri, the area where they were founded.

The group's other name, Boko Haram, means "Western education is a sin" and is another title used by local people to refer to the group.

Isa Sanusi, from the BBC's Hausa service, says the group has no specific name for itself, just many names attributed to it by local people.

If their name is uncertain, however, their mission appears clear enough: to overthrow the Nigerian state, impose an extreme interpretation of Islamic law and abolish what they term "Western-style education".

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Protests, Complaints, and Representations

In "Xinhua English and Zhonglish," I discussed the phenomenon of a peculiar style of English that has developed in China.  Since it is not outrageously incorrect in terms of grammar or grossly unidiomatic, this type of English cannot be labeled Chinglish.  On the other hand, this particular style of English, which we may call Xinhua English or New China News English, is distinctive enough to be recognizable as an emerging dialect.

The latest instance (like the previous one) was brought to my attention by Victor Steinbok, who keeps a keen eye out for pertinent examples.  It is in today's headline from China View, an organ of Xinhuanet:  "China lodges solemn representation over Japan's permission for Rebiya Kadeer's visit."

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Pop-Whorfianism in the comics again

Alex Baumans and Eric Lechner independently sent in copies of today's Speed Bump, for our "Words for X" file:

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Fucking shut the fuck up

The Irish singer Van Morrison was well into his set at a concert in his native isle before a crowd in high spirits. Enthusiastic applause followed every song. At one point in the excited hubbub as Van tried to signal the band to start a new song, a voice yelled out over the crowd, "We love you, Van!". This moved the dour and laconic performer to make his only remark of the evening to his audience. Said Van emphatically to his adoringly ebullient fan: "Fucking shut the fuck up."

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Lying is linguistic

Can you tell a lie nonlinguistically? That is, is it reasonable that certain actions or even physical objects should be regarded as embodying lies? A couple of clearly somewhat dishonest examples:

  • In the Best Western El Rancho Inn on El Camino Real in Millbrae (Millbrae sounds Scottish but it is near the San Francisco International Airport; I am waiting for a flight to take me back to Edinburgh) the Colombian-made cotton towels and facecloths bear a label stating the brand name "Five Star". El Rancho is nice, but it is a standard-grade California motel, not five star. Could the towel company be trying to misinform me about the quality I am enjoying?

  • In the Office Depot store across the street from the El Rancho there is a demo of wireless printing from an HP laptop to an HP All-In-One printer / scanner / fax / copier / toaster. The sign brags about the built-in wireless networking and says you should open WordPad on the laptop and type something and then click "File | Print", and what you typed will magically appear on the nearby printer. But I checked the laptop more closely. Discreetly plugged into the side of it is a USB cable. I traced the cable. It runs to the printer. There is no wireless connection at all. Could they be trying to mislead me about how well wireless printer networking works?

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Down the memory hole into bibliomysticism

For the better part of the past two years, I've resisted the temptation to run out and buy a Kindle. (Well, OK, I wouldn't have to "run out" to do it, nor could I; as far as I can tell, the Kindle can only be ordered on Amazon. But whatever, it's still an appropriate figure of speech.) The Kindle just seems made for me. I love books and I love to read, and I'm also a ridiculously huge fan of electronic publishing of all kinds, and (especially) of the idea of carrying a library worth of books with me wherever I go, because hey, you never know when you might want to read any one of them. (This also explains why my iPod touch overfloweth with just-in-case music.) The Kindle seems like it should be the best of both worlds: it's all there but the actual page-turning.

But still, I've resisted. I suppose I've been waiting for a sign, or at the very least for a definitive review of the Kindle — something other than the lap-doggish panting that was all I'd seen thus far. And in the space of the past two weeks, I've had both.

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